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Footwear problems show ‘systemic gender inequality’ in sport – British MPs



Research into anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee injuries in women’s football is indicative of “systemic gender inequality in sports and exercise research”, a report from a committee of British MPs has claimed.

The British parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee highlighted the lack of accessibility and affordability for football boots designed for female feet as being “symptomatic of sexism”.

The lack of football boots specifically designed for women was a key theme in the parliamentary report titled: “Health barriers for girls and women in sport”, published on Tuesday.

The report was critical of the response from sports science to the volume of ACL injuries in women’s football, describing the research as “disparate and slow”.

Females are anywhere from two to eight times more likely to suffer an ACL injury compared to males. However, much of the research on this issue has centred on female menstrual cycles or variation in body shape compared to males.

The report said: “We have no doubt that a health issue of similar magnitude affecting elite male footballers would have received a faster, more thorough, and better coordinated response.”


ACL injuries are a risk for male and female footballers but so much is still unknown

It called on the UK government to convene a taskforce, which should include “women’s health and fitness experts” and the “UK divisions of leading sportswear and sporting goods brands” in an attempt “to develop a long-term strategy to tackle sportswomen’s health and physiology-related issues, including those related to sportswear and kit.”

It added that football boots “must be the priority” given the “associations with discomfort and injury”. A report published by football’s European Club Association, who surveyed 350 elite female footballers in 2023, found as many as 82 per cent of female players in Europe experience discomfort wearing boots.

The report found that only “limited progress” has been made by leading sports brands, who have produced “only a handful” of football boots designed specifically for the needs of girls and women — which are priced at a level “many cannot afford”, with a quoted price of £200 (€233.76).

Baz Moffat, a women’s health and fitness coach and co-founder and CEO of The Well HQ, claimed this was the first boot that was genuinely “unisex” rather than simply being “shrunk down” from a male boot. Moffat emphasised that there was currently only one brand in the world, IDA Sports, dedicated to producing boots designed specifically for women’s feet.

That the first football boot specifically designed for women came onto the market let than four years ago was said to be “symptomatic of gender inequality and sexism in the sports sector”.



What is behind the ACL-injury epidemic ruling out Women’s World Cup stars?

What have sportswear manufacturers said?

In August 2023, leading sportswear brands said they were investing in women’s-fit styles but argued retailers can be reluctant to stock them due to lack of awareness.

It came after the British parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee contacted executives at Adidas, Nike, Puma, Umbro and others on July 3 requesting information about their products for women, asking: “Why are there so few football boots on the market designed specifically for women and girls?”

Puma said in their response that often “female players wanted to play and be treated exactly as male players are, with the exact same footwear”, while adding they were “meeting the needs of the female consumer” but this also required their “retail partners to recognise the opportunity and to provide access and choice to our female consumers”.

Adidas said they were taking a gender-neutral approach to football boots, which were “not tailored to a specific gender’s foot”.

Nike responded by stating they offer the Phantom Luna, which they described as the “most comprehensive and researched women’s boot design in Nike’s storied football history”.

What is an ACL injury?

An anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury is a tear or sprain of the ACL, one of the strong bands of tissue that connect the thigh bone (femur) to shinbone (tibia) at the knee joint.

The ACL runs diagonally through the inside of the knee to give the joint stability. The ACL also adds stability nd control for vertical movement of the lower leg.

Knee injuries can occur during sports such as skiing, tennis, squash, football and rugby. ACL injuries are one of the most common types of knee injuries.

ACL tears occur when the lower leg extends forward too much, while the muscle can also be torn if the knee and lower leg are twisted.

These injuries are common across sports, including football, and can be a result of an incorrect landing from a jump, a sudden stop or change of direction, or an overextension following a collision.

Surgery is often required following these injuries, which can result in lengthy delays lasting multiple months.

(Robin Alam/USSF/Getty Images)

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