Women’s Euro football: do girls manage to find a place in playground football matches?

“All recess, I had the ball and we played games. It was almost the World Cup for me.” In a video of the FFF before the Women’s Football Euro which is held in England, the former international Elise Bussaglia returned to the courtyard of her elementary school, in Sedan (Ardennes). If the former midfielder with 192 selections for the France team often mingled with the boys, the majority of young girls remained on the sidelines when a master or mistress agreed to release a ball.

As the Blues begin their Euro against Italy on Sunday July 10, have the lines moved in the playground? In the clubs in any case, the 2019 World Cup, organized at home, boosted the number of licensees: in March 2022, the FFF claimed some 200,000 registered, including 163,717 active players compared to 141,279 a year earlier. What encourage young girls to also take their place on the asphalt courts?

Practices are changing, but slowly, note the teachers who responded to Franceinfo’s call for testimonials. The football field is not strictly closed to schoolgirls, who are increasingly trying to integrate the improvised parts of the interclass. But the separation between boys and girls remains a heavy trend, confirms Edith Maruéjouls, gender geographer, co-author of the Unicef ​​report and director of the Larobe research office.

In the yard, the land can occupy “up to 80% of the space”while it is only privatized by ten to twenty big boys. “You can see one or two girls playing, but they are always the best”adds the specialist, who has been working for more than ten years in immersion in schools on the equal sharing of space between girls and boys.

Impossible to precisely quantify the share of schoolgirls who kick the ball, but Elodie, director of elementary school in Val-et-Marne, confirms the trend. When she watches her students play, only a few rare girls get involved in these ten-minute matches. “They don’t seem too eager to play football, it’s as if they don’t allow themselves to. It may be linked to the representation they have of this sport”she says.

In the playgrounds, children dream of Kylian Mbappé. “It even appears in the communication of certain schools”, testifies Edith Maruéjouls. Despite progress, “at the media level and among the figures who are role models, it remains difficult for girls to identify with high-level players”, adds the geographer of the genre. A lack of representation which could explain why the girls do not try to impose themselves more.

Sometimes improvised with clothes to symbolize the goals, when they are not represented by trees, football at recess also has its own codes. “The question arises of the constitution of the teams, of the ‘leader’ of the ball, all that is very regulated between the children”, observes the researcher. And in this highly regulated space, it is often individual performance that takes precedence: “Who is the best? Who scores the most?”

“Often it’s the biggest, strongest and most skilled who play.”

Edith Maruéjouls, gender geographer

at franceinfo

To force the lock, some students are zealous. “Once, one came to school in cleats to show that she was capable of playing. Others arrive in football uniforms. They are as if obliged to show that they have their place”remarks Philippe, a teacher in an elementary school in Côte-d’Or.

Once they have joined the ranks, their presence is finally no longer an issue. Nicole Abar, former international in the 1960s, president of the Liberté aux Joueuses association, observer for two decades of the place of girls in football, recognizes this evolution: “Today it’s normal for a girl to be able to play football.”

“Girls playing are still an exception, but that exception is no longer an anomaly.”

Nicole Abar, president of the Freedom association for players

at franceinfo

The refusals, the jeers, the “tomboy” perhaps fuse less than yesterday, when a girl eyed the ball too much for the taste of the others. But the question still arises of the place they occupy on the ground. According to testimonies collected by franceinfo, those who play remain “relegated to defense or goalkeeping”. They need to have the temperament to play higher up the field, in attack. And when a girl scores, it’s amazing”smiles Roxane.

This teacher in a class of CM2 which has only eight boys notes that they “are a bit forced to play with the girls, otherwise it would make teams too small”. On the other hand, when the doors of the 6th are crossed, the improvements noted in elementary tend to disappear. “In college, masculinity is exacerbated, boys want to find their place and it can be scary to participate in this sport which can be physical. Boys express their power. In primary school, less”, notes Laurent, PE teacher in Vendée. An observation shared by Edith Maruéjouls who remembers a college “where some girls, although enrolled in football sections, did not practice this sport during the break between noon and 2 p.m..”

Finally, it is the place of girls in the playground that raises questions, beyond the football field which seems to be only a visible example of a still significant compartmentalization. For their part, the FFF and the Ministry of National Education do not necessarily have any leads to improve this non-mixing of children. The two authorities confirm to franceinfo that no one has specifically looked into the subject. The work is therefore done at the local level where several town halls, such as that of Trappes, Rennes, La Roche-sur-Yon, Grenoble or Lyon are trying to redevelop the school space.

Work also carried out in a school in Houilles (Yvelines), where the courtyard has been refurbished to put an end to “the compartmentalization between girls and boys and avoiding jostling with football in particular”, says its director, Madeleine*. Now there are three zones, created according to the intensities: one for running, another for calm games and a zone for other games (without the ball). “Students no longer ask to play football, so this proves that a world without a ball is possible”, she rejoices. In these redesigned courses, the Frisbee or the game of the cat (perched or frozen, it is according to) all their place.

According to Edith Maruéjouls, several avenues can still be explored to improve the mix. It offers : “Learn to share spaces, why not with a schedule. Work on the layouts on the ground and determine the space for collective play.”The evolution of mentalities also requires an educational effort: “We brought in a football coach who was in charge of the women’s section of the local club, says Marie-Christine, school director in the Jura. Thanks to her, some boys who are good at football have understood the benefit of sharing the ball and playing with the girls.”

Finally, despite good intentions, teacher training would also be beneficial. “From kindergarten, it is up to the Ministry of National Education to take up this question by imposing training on teachers in order to question them about their own representations and make them aware of their role in the reproduction of stereotypes of generation to generation”according to former international Nicole Abar. “We have to start all over again”, she insists. To hope to avoid a draw.

* The first name has been changed at the request of the person concerned

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