Football is what dreams are made of, but even the most ambitious young players with imagination need initial inspiration.

Before they start thinking they’ll be part of a trophy-winning team or start dreaming of scoring loads of goals, budding Lionesses need role models they can relate to.

This is one of the many reasons why diversity is so important and why the whiteness of the England team can be questioned. This should not be seen as a criticism of a very good side or Sarina Wigman’s very good manager, but an acknowledgment that visibility matters.

Young girls who don’t see anyone who looks like them lack role models – and that’s important.

Like England, France reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2022, but unlike the Lionesses, their 23-woman squad includes 15 black or brown players. The Lionesses, on the other hand, have just three black players in Jess Carter, Nikita Parris and Demi Stokes, with only Carter yet to see any playing time.

There is clearly a problem, but it has nothing to do with Wiegman’s squad lists for Euro 2022, but everything to do with England players’ pathways.

England’s Girl Scout system lacks enough bodies on the ground, the necessary resources and the imagination to look in the right places. Why don’t chief scouts approach organizations such as the charity Football Beyond Borders to help them identify talented young players from non-traditional backgrounds?

Demographics also matter. Some areas – like the Northeast – are much whiter than others. Despite this, scouts don’t seem to be finding promising young black players in much more diverse regions. Are they looking in the wrong places? Is it laziness or groupthink that drives them to look for them in similar places? Or is it also partly about the creation of the WSL in 2010?

When I started playing, back in the days when the women’s game was still amateur, the London women’s teams of Arsenal, Chelsea, Charlton and Fulham were quite diverse.

Hope Powell, who is here preparing England for Euro 2005, is the only non-white coach Anita Asante has worked with. Photo: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Perhaps surprisingly, this has changed since 2010. Most of England’s players now represent professional, and mostly white, WSL teams. That was something that really struck me when I joined the newly promoted Aston Villa in 2020 and realized that with players like myself, Shania Hales from Jamaica and Elisha N’Dow, we were the most diverse side in the WSL.

Part of the problem is that WSL teams have moved mainly to new suburban or semi-rural training facilities located in green areas away from cities in places such as Surrey, Hertfordshire and Cheshire.

This is the norm for many of the men’s Premier League parent clubs, who perhaps understandably believe that the women’s teams should train in the same venues. What they may not have considered is that there is a lot less money in the women’s game and many young black girls, who often live in inner cities, find it difficult to get to training grounds outside the city.

While a leading men’s club can arrange for a male academy player to be transported from school to training and then back home, this almost certainly won’t be available to a girl whose parents can’t transport her back and forth. Young Premier League players are sometimes placed with host families who can provide the right home environment to maximize their talent, but again, this is not the case with their WSL counterparts.

While no group is homogenous, and it would be a mistake to believe the conventional wisdom that all young black players are disadvantaged and live in inner cities—obviously a sweeping generalization—the suburbanization of training facilities has clearly limited opportunities for both black , and for white girls to work – backgrounds of the class. As a further complication, some schools have been very slow to introduce soccer as an option for girls.

Another problem is the lack of black and brown faces in the coaching staff. I’ve played for quite a few clubs over the years, but apart from my former England manager Hope Powell, I’ve never worked with a non-white manager. This needs to change.

Anita Asante celebrates with Shania Hales after scoring a goal
Anita Assante celebrates with Shania Hales after scoring for Aston Villa at Brighton in November 2020. Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Some young black players were likely to be confused by the events of 2017, when the FA finally apologized to Annie Aluko following her claims that former England manager Mark Sampson had made racist comments towards her. When they saw that Eni didn’t believe them at first, they might have thought, “Why take the risk?”

Additionally, there is a misunderstanding of cultural barriers in some black, Asian and minority communities, where girls are often under different pressures to conform to gender norms. For example, when Sport England began to encourage people from South East Asia to take up cycling, it initially did not realize that in this culture cycling was synonymous with poor people and was therefore looked down upon. As soon as the officials explained why cycling in England is viewed very differently, a positive response followed.

In football too, coaches and administrators can sometimes be a bit lazy in understanding the cultural differences that will allow them to challenge perceptions and sometimes myths.

But visibility – or the lack of it – remains the biggest challenge. I was doing an investigation for the BBC last week when the presenter, Eilidh Barbour, initiated a debate about the lack of diversity in Illwitz.

The backlash on Twitter – with many users mistakenly assuming we’re criticizing Wigman’s England – shows that too many people are in denial about our diversity challenge.

They don’t understand that everyone should be able to dream.

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