In an open letter published in the European Women's Under.-19 Championship tournament programme, teenager Olivia Hancock says the time has come for the women's game to share an equal footing with the men's.
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Olivia Hancock’s stirring speech ahead of the UEFA Women’s Champions League final in Budapest struck a chord at a discussion forum organised by the Together #WePlayStrong campaign.
The 13-year-old’s impassioned plea called for girls to receive the same opportunities within football as boys and highlighted that, though, big strides have been taken in recent years, there is still much work to be done. In this open letter ahead of the UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship, she repeats her call for change.
My name is Olivia, I’m 13 years old, I live for football, and it’s Time for Action. This was the first year that the UEFA Women’s Champions League final was played in a different location from the men’s. The FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer was watched by millions more people than ever before – in stadiums, on our phones and on TVs across the globe. It is a journey that we’ve been on for years to get to this point.
I feel like my football journey has three stepping stones. My first was eight years ago when, as a five-year-old girl, the only choice I had was to play for the local boys’ team. There were simply no girls’ teams anywhere near me.
Now, I’m on stepping stone two – eight years on, I can see where the progress has been made. I’m now playing for two different girls’ teams in a dedicated girls’ league. And I can see my final step, stone three; in eight years’ time I will be playing on the same pitches and in the same stadiums as men, in front of huge crowds.
Eight years ago, this would have seemed impossible. Today, anything and everything is possible. We are making progress, we are Playing Strong. Together. We know where we want the journey to take us and we know how to get there. Together.
As part of the Together #WePlayStrong event at the UEFA Women’s Champions League final, I attended the first Women’s European Freestyle Championship where talented freestyle footballers from across Europe competed for the biggest prize fund ever offered for a women’s freestyle competition.
I also participated in an inspiring afternoon talk panel event, with speakers including Nadine Kessler (UEFA’s head of women’s football), Katie Zelem (Manchester United Women player of the year), Trisha Lewis (founder and manager of Romance FC) and former New Zealand international Rebecca Smith (COPA90’s global executive director of the women’s game). And, of course, me!
We now have our own football idols to follow. I have so many who inspire me to be like them. This is what pushes me to work hard in training. I have experienced walking out on to the pitch as a mascot, with the amazing noise in the stadiums in front of huge crowds. That is the future, but my personal dream now is for all young girls at primary schools to be allowed to choose to play football. This is not an option at all schools.
I also think it’s important for the future of the women’s game that all primary schools have girls’ football teams, like they do boys’ teams; that schools can provide an environment where girls can enjoy the fun of playing football together at a young age. I am doing what I can to make these changes and I know UEFA is too.
I am now in high school and I am so lucky that we have a girls’ football team and get to play matches against other school teams. But can you imagine a day when a boy and a girl can sit next to each other in the same school classroom and share the same football dream, of playing professionally, in front of big crowds at stadiums around the world? As equals. I can. And I do. I know there is still a lot of work to be done. As UEFA announced earlier this year, it is Time for Action.
I am so excited about the future of the women’s game. A game that can have a future for me and girls like me across Europe and the world. But we have to continue to keep growing. To move forward. To remember what brings us to events like the UEFA European Women’s U19 Championship. And what will keep us together going forward.
This article appears in the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship official tournament programme