Leah Williamson Addresses Oxford Union: Tackling Key Issues in Women's Football

Arsenal and England's Williamson discussed her career and issues in the women's game

Leah Williamson Addresses Oxford Union: Tackling Key Issues in Women's Football

Leah Williamson believes that Emirates Stadium is Arsenal Women's home. Credit- Mark Leech/Offside

In a compelling three-part video series released on the Oxford Union YouTube channel, Leah Williamson addressed several critical topics surrounding women’s football, including her career, diversity within the squad, representation in the sport, and research into injuries. The first video featured an interview format with audience questions, followed by an extensive Q&A session in the second video. The series concluded with a speech from Williamson, directly addressing the audience and viewers at home.

For those unfamiliar with the Oxford Union, it is renowned as the ‘most prestigious debating society,’ known for hosting internationally prominent figures from politics, academia, and popular culture. The Union's diverse speaker events continue to explore significant issues and current affairs, with Leah Williamson being their latest distinguished guest.

In the initial interview, Leah Williamson was asked about various aspects of women’s football.

Reflecting on her ACL injury that sidelined her from April 2023 until her return in January 2024, causing her to miss the Women’s World Cup, Williamson discussed the pressing issue of research into women’s injuries in football. The England captain voiced the frustration felt by many, stating, "There were no answers because there is no research on women."

While optimistic about the positive changes in women’s football, Williamson emphasised the need for continued progress. The Euro 2022 winner pointed out, "Until the world changes, there will always be problems. The barriers we face in terms of sexism and misogyny in women’s football are reflective of those issues in society. This will be ongoing for a long time." 

Leah Williamson acknowledged the progress, stating, "It’s a process. We have a long way to go, the conversations are happening. You can’t fix everything overnight." Williamson vowed to keep pushing for more positive change, saying, "I won’t be happy in my career with what we have; I will always push for more."

Addressing concerns in women’s football, Williamson highlighted the disparity between the top and bottom tiers as a major issue. "I have friends that play in the Championship who still take a job in a bar in the evening," she noted, highlighting the financial struggles many players face. Williamson suggested that increasing FA Cup prize money could help address this disparity, benefiting lower league clubs by improving access to facilities and opportunities for growth.

Williamson also shared advice for young Arsenal players, especially Katie Reid, who came on as substitute for her in the game against Bristol City in April. The England captain humorously remarked, "They should be ten times better footballers than me by the time they’re 27 because everything is there for them now. Not everything, but we are on a journey."

Williamson was also questioned about LGBTQ+ rights and FIFA’s attempt to prevent rainbow armbands on the pitch. The Euro 2022 winner firmly stated, "If I was at the men’s World Cup when they were threatening to card and ban players, I would have served the ban. I wouldn’t have played the game because there’s no way I wouldn’t have worn that armband."

When asked about diversity in women’s football and the lack of representation, Williamson emphasised that "diversifying the game is our top priority. It comes down to access." She stressed the importance of making football more inclusive, noting that schools play a critical role in this effort. The England captain praised her teammate Lotte Wubben-Moy for spearheading the decision to write to the Prime Minister after their Euro 2022 victory, calling for investment in girls’ football in schools and support for female PE teachers.

Regarding the introduction of new competitions like the Club World Cup in 2026 and a second tier to the Women’s Champions League, Williamson highlighted the scheduling challenges. "You’re going to need 40+ people in the squad to cater for the load," Williamson pointed out. "Do I think the idea sounds fantastic on paper? Of course. Do I know where it’s going to go in the schedule? I have no idea."

In a lighter moment, Williamson joked about wanting to play as a striker if she could try another position.

Discussing Arsenal Women playing more games at Emirates Stadium, Williamson declared, "We do feel now like Emirates is home to us." While Borehamwood holds a special place in their hearts due to the connection with fans, Leah Williamson believes Arsenal Women should be playing at the Emirates, and has worked hard behind the scenes to make it happen.

In her concluding speech, Williamson reflected on the current state of women’s football. "What I am most proud of in this time, specifically post-European Championship victory, is the change we have bled into society; the opportunities now afforded to women and girls that were previously in the shadows." The Euro 2022 winner acknowledged the responsibility of being a visible female in a male-dominated environment, noting it as both a gift and a burden. Williamson ended her speech with heartfelt words about her career, saying, "I can honestly say I have given my heart and soul to a sport that I believe can change the world."

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