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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

How the players bring inclusivity to Arsenal WFC

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

"I think that the beauty of the women's game is that it is inclusive," Arsenal defender and England Captain Leah Williamson shared in a recent interview. "I think that's why people sort of describe it as like that family feel because you come in and then you realise that you actually kind of fit."

This simple statement sums up why I love women's football and Arsenal WFC. The team, the club, and therefore the fans create that aura.

So, what is it about the women's game - and Arsenal in particular - that makes it feel so inclusive?

Inclusivity and diversity are opposite sides of the same coin.

Diversity is how well different groups are represented in a particular environment. Inclusivity is how well that diversity is allowed to thrive.

Diversity in women's football still needs work. Research in 2020 showed that only 10-15% of players in the WSL are black, with some players saying that they looked to other countries to see themselves reflected in the team. This shows that the system is currently falling short.

"The visibility, the accessibility, all of those things from the bottom need to be better so that we don't lose the diversity of the game," says Williamson.

"Within the [England] squad, this is an important issue and we're all aware of it. There's nothing that we can do right now to change it."

This dependence on a higher authority to create change is reflected in the potential "Visit Saudi" sponsorship of the women's World Cup 2023.

In the men's World Cup in 2022, controversially hosted in Qatar, many teams planned to show their support of the LGBTQ+ community with the "one love" captain armbands. However, FIFA hid behind the excuse being "politically neutral" and said it would impose sanctions on anyone that wore one.

Saudi Arabia - a country where women's rights are restricted and homosexuality is illegal - is set to be a sponsor of the women's World Cup in 2023. Doubt has also been cast on whether FIFA will allow teams to wear the rainbow armbands at the women's World Cup, as they did at the Euros.

"Hopefully, those things are resolved in a positive way by Fifa, Australia and New Zealand," Williamson shares. "There's a time and place for players to speak out but ultimately those decisions are not in our hands and you hope they're made in the best interests of the game."

What the players can control is the inclusivity of the club and its culture of acceptance.

This is where women's football and Arsenal thrive.

Members of the Arsenal team have spoken out about the lack of diversity, particularly in the England women's team.

Arsenal also continues to take the knee before games in the WSL, as an anti-racism and pro-diversity gesture.

The vocal show of support for Jakub Jankto, Czech international, coming out as gay also emphasises where the team's values lie.

And, of course, the topic of inclusivity has been directly addressed.

These individual gestures build to paint a picture of the values of the players and the club, their push for diversity and inclusivity - in football and in society - and the knowledge that they'll fight to make things better where they can.

Like-minded people with those same values seem to gravitate towards women's football and Arsenal WFC.

When I started going to games, I went on my own, and never felt out of place. When I joined the Arsenal Women Supporters' Club and started attending with others, that feeling only grew.

The team promotes football for everyone. It aims to create that impetus for change, a welcoming atmosphere, and awareness around the need to be better.

The game has a reputation of being "family friendly", but that's just an extension of the inclusive nature of the club and reflected in its fanbase.

Decisions around diversity may be taken out of the player's hands, or require years of investment to correct, but they use the platform they have to lead the way.

"We're never shy in saying what we stand for," Williamson has shared. "We make clear statements constantly about the society we want to live in and that we want to have a positive impact on the world."

The culture of inclusivity has flourished at Arsenal and in women's football because the players promote it. The fans can sense it, and like calls to like, in the most part.

It's why, in Leah's words, we can all "actually kind of fit".

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