By Rob Dorsett
Last Updated: 06/07/20 8:24pm
England international Fern Whelan believes there are too few black players at the elite level of the women’s game and is calling on the FA to address the issue.
The Brighton defender is calling on the Football Association to produce and publish statistics on diversity – but the FA have told Sky Sports News they do not have categories of personal data such as racial or ethnic origin.
The governing body say that general data protection regulations mean people cannot be forced to reveal such sensitive information, though they can do so voluntarily.
The FA have so far declined Sky Sports News‘ request to interview head of women’s football Sue Campbell on the subject, and Whelan says without knowing what the problem is, it cannot be properly addressed.
“You can’t solve a problem if it’s not visible,” she told Sky Sports News. “That’s the main point – you need to know the answer to the question.
“I can collate the data to know how many [BAME women] are playing in the Championship, how many are playing in the WSL. But again, unless that is officially put down, and the data delved into, [it can’t be found].”
“Do we have more [black women] playing in the south, where there are more clubs, or less in the north, where there may be issues over access? So it’s important to collect the data yes, but to actually look into that data as well, see what you can get from that, and make changes accordingly.”
Whelan has previously been reluctant to talk about her own experiences of racism in football, because she did not want to be labelled a ‘trouble-maker’, but she says she also got conditioned to accepting what she calls “subtle racism”.
“I haven’t spoken about it too much,” she admits. “I don’t know if that’s because I haven’t been asked about it.
“From the ages of eight to 16, I was in teams where I was the only black player. I didn’t think about it too much, but there were derogatory terms that I wasn’t comfortable with and, I’ll be honest, it was really bad at the time that things were allowed to slide.
“It becomes a subtle racism then; not aggressive. It wasn’t in my face, and was passed off as banter, but you’ve crossed a line: names like “darky”, games of “bibs v darks”, and it’s only now when I look back and think ‘those things are awful’.
“They shouldn’t have been allowed to be said, but I guess I took it on the chin. I knew I was more than that, I knew that wasn’t me, I’m more than a black female: I’m a black female who’s educated, I’m a black female who’s in football. I tried not to rise to it.”
Whelan has echoed the view of Stoke City Women’s new head coach Alena Moulton, who told Sky Sports News last week that there is a worrying lack of black players in women’s elite football.
Whelan believes the problem has become worse, not better, in the last decade, and asks: “Is it because the game is transforming into a more full-time, professional, elite status? Is there still the same availability for young black girls?
“The women train where the men train now, at elite training centres, and a lot of these are actually quite difficult to get to. At Brighton we train at Lancing, which is quite out of the way, we have Cobham which is similar, as is Everton’s training centre, Mellwood. Is that potentially one of the reasons?
“Is the access falling away a bit for people from poorer backgrounds, who maybe don’t have the access or the travel facilities to get to these places? Maybe young black girls are enjoying playing the game, but when it gets a bit more serious at academy level, can they actually get to training? Do their mums and dads have time to take them there?”