The Lionesses have issued an open letter to Tory leadership hopefuls Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, urging them to ensure all girls have access to football in schools.
In a joint letter signed by the entire England women’s team, the Lionesses said their European Championship win was “just the beginning”.
They called on the government to ensure that all girls in physical education classes have access to at least two hours of football every week. The letter also urged leadership candidates to invest in and support female physical education teachers to act as role models for young girls.
“This is an opportunity to make a big difference. A change that will impact the lives of millions of young girls,” they wrote.
“We – the 23 members of the England Senior Women’s Euro squad – ask that you make investing in girls’ football in schools a priority so that every girl has a chance.”
Both Ms Truss and Mr Sunak have now vowed to look into sporting inequalities between boys and girls in schools but failed to promise to include football in the national curriculum.
A spokesman for Ms Truss’s campaign said: “The Lionesses Euro victory and record-breaking attendance at Wembley Stadium will have a lasting impact on women’s football.
“Liz wants equal access to all sports for boys and girls and supports campaigns like the FA’s Let Girls Play campaign.”
A spokesman for the Liz For Leader campaign said the current favorite for prime minister was “obliged to investigate what is preventing schools from delivering the recommended minimum of two hours of sport per week”.
They added that Ms Truss “would explore how best to deliver for girls in schools across the UK” if she became Prime Minister.
A spokesman for the Ready For Rishi campaign said Mr Sunak was “inspired by England’s performance at Euros and wants to use their inspiring success to attract more women and girls to the game”.
“Rishi believes passionately in the importance of sport in children’s development and would like to see all schools offer 2 hours of sport per week,” they said.
“He has also pledged to launch a review of women’s football immediately when he becomes prime minister to ensure all women and girls have the opportunity to take part in this beautiful game of football.”
It comes after I revealed the government has rejected calls for football to be included in the national curriculum and said it is up to individual schools to decide which sports to teach.
Some sports, such as swimming, are compulsory in the national curriculum, but football is not one of them.
Government guidelines released by the Department of Education (DfE) do not guarantee school girls get the same football lessons as boys but say they should be offered “comparable activities”.
The government’s response prompted an outcry from top athletes, including some of the Lionesses themselves, and goalkeeper Mary Earps called for football to be urgently included in the national curriculum.
She told the BBC breakfast: “I think if you could ask the team what they would like, it would be access to football in schools for young girls… I would really like to see more girls being able to play in schools.”
The England goalkeeper, who hails from Nottingham, said she had little access to the sport at school, where coaching is split into separate boys’ and girls’ teams.
“I went to a pretty traditional school where boys and girls were separated, which sounds like it was in the 1950s, but it wasn’t,” she said.
“Girls and boys did separate sports activities and the girls did netball and tennis and what was considered a ‘female’ sport.”
Earps said schools have a responsibility to ensure young girls can play football amid an expected surge in interest after the Lionesses’ historic Euro win last week, which was England’s first major trophy since 1966.
“Women can do whatever they want, and I think we need to break out of these boxes and molds and labels that people have been putting us in for years,” she said.
“I’ve had so many messages from so many people saying how great it has been and how much their daughters – but also sons – are in the garden, making goalkeepers and coaching their football and that’s what we want.
“We want these girls to have access to school from a young age and just be able to play. Soccer is the best sport in the world. Everyone just wants to play.”
England striker Beth Mead added that winning the Lionesses’ Euros was “just the beginning” and called on Ms Truss and Mr Sunak to improve access to football for girls in schools.
Team-mates Chloe Kelly and Alessia Russo also said more needs to be done to improve girls’ access to football in schools.
Kelly told the BBC breakfast: “I think this could really be a game changer for women and women in sport.
“We wanted to inspire the next generation, we wanted to inspire the nation, but [for] Girls in sport this could be a really big game changer and I think we’re all looking forward to that.”
Her team-mate Russo, whose hoeing goal in the semifinals against Sweden was one of the most iconic moments of the tournament, said she struggled to break into the sport because of poor access to football at school.
“I remember there was a boys’ soccer club after school that I just went to – whether I was invited or not,” she said.
“It’s great to be able to compete with the boys because obviously they’re naturally bigger, faster and stronger, but at the same time we’re women and we want to play and grow up with girls and have equal opportunities. ”
Labor has urged the Government to introduce an “Equal Access Guarantee” to ensure all girls are offered football in schools.
It said the move would “help cement the legacy of the Lionesses’ victory” and ensure girls have an equal opportunity with boys.
Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said Labor “calls on the Government to seize this moment” to change the current curriculum and give girls better access to football.
In a letter to Education Secretary James Cleverly, she said: “The country has come together to celebrate the Lionesses’ stunning victory, now we must come together to safeguard that legacy and give women and girls equal access to sport.
“Conservatives have consistently failed to build on our sporting successes and must not continue to hide behind outdated policies that restrict girls’ access to school sports.”
Labor said the move followed I‘s reports that the DfE had rejected calls for football to be included in the national curriculum.
Ms Phillipson slammed the government’s focus on “comparable sports” for schoolgirls as “an outdated obligation that limits opportunities for boys and girls and does nothing to break down traditional barriers to entry”.
The shadow education secretary added she was “seriously concerned” that the DfE is refusing to update its policies.
“It’s time for the government to give full support to sport for women and girls, so I urge you to mark this extraordinary moment with ambitious steps to open school sports to all children and help empower the lionesses of the creating the future,” she wrote.