A FEMALE referee from the North East, who is championing the involvement of women in football, has taken her crusade to Westminster.
Lucy Oliver – a sports development officer at Sunderland College – addressed the House of Lords last night alongside other influential and pioneering women who are campaigning for gender diversification in football.
The high-profile group of women included Dame Heather Rabbatts, who stepped down from her role as non-executive director and board member of the Football Association this year, and Dr Eva Carneiro, Chelsea FC’s former doctor.
They were invited to speak at the House of Lords through their involvement with Women in Football, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and is made up of professional women with links to the football industry, who strive to support and champion their peers.
Jacqui Oatley, BBC Match of the Day’s first female commentator, hosted the event which also featured Elizabeth Nyamayaro, the executive director for UN Women.
Speaking about her own sporting background and the barriers she has faced as a female working in a male-dominated sport, Lucy, who last year officiated at the Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, described football as ‘a vehicle which can create social change’.
She told the chamber: “It is fantastic to see the number of women in football grow. Role models are a vital component in engaging women into football. We have women operating at the highest levels, running professional football clubs and playing football professionally which was merely a distant dream a decade ago.
“One day, it will seem ridiculous that it was even considered unusual or controversial for women to be involved in football.”
Lucy and her Women in Football counterparts hope now dialogue has been opened with the House of Lords, that their campaign will garner further support on a wider political scale.
“I was humbled to be invited to speak in the House of Lords and to share my personal opinions and experiences,” said Lucy, who is responsible for developing Sunderland College’s sporting provision and growing the number of students who take part in sport and exercise.
She added: “We have come a long way in football in terms of promoting female participation and challenging gender stereotypes, but we still have a long way to go before we can honestly say the issue has been fully tackled.
“It is the aim of the FA to double the participation of women and girls in football by 2020, and in order to do that, we need the full weight of the government behind us. That doesn’t just mean financial backing, but a key focus of ours is to have a higher level of visibility and recognition of what we are trying to achieve. We want to empower women and make sure under representation of females in the football industry is a thing of the past.
“This is the first time the issue has been brought before the House of Lords and we hope that this has created a real buzz around the topic which will provide a catalyst for further change and ultimately, equality in football.”
Lucy, who started refereeing at the age of 15 and is an ambassador for the FA, has encouraged and inspired many young women to get involved in football on a local and national level.
Since her appointment at Sunderland College three years ago, she has introduced a number of initiatives to build the confidence of young women in sport and her determination is echoed by the college’s sporting offer.
The college has a dedicated women’s football development centre, delivered in partnership with Improtech Soccer Elite Academy, and runs a varied programme of sporting enrichment activities for female students.
And earlier this year, four female students from the college were selected as ambassadors by This Girl Can – a nationwide campaign to encourage women to start exercising.
Lucy added: “We have to change the way people view male-dominated sports from an early age, so it’s absolutely integral to educate and engage with young women at the earliest opportunity. The work I do at Sunderland College is an important aspect of Women in Football’s campaign, and it means we’re giving the younger generation a chance to cast inequality and under representation in football to one side.”