Researching World Cup Legacy on Grassroots Football

It’s been three weeks since the end of the biggest and best World Cup in women’s footballing history. In a tournament that saw almost 2 million people enter stadiums across Australia and New Zealand, and over 11 million people tuning in to watch the Matildas play in the semi-final against England, many have pitted that this tournament will leave a legacy across the nation and the world like no other.

But what does that legacy actually look like, especially at the grassroots level? Change Our Game’s Lani Johnson had a chat with someone who might just know the answer.

Elsa Mangan is currently studying her PhD on the social impact and legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup on women and girls in Victoria. It’s a massive project she took on at the beginning of this year, and one that will keep her busy until 2025.

Elsa is diving deep into how women and girls feel in their clubs at a grassroots level, and is in the process of comparing their experiences in football both before and after the World Cup. She’s aiming to quantify their attitudes and behaviours, taking data from focus groups and surveys to identify trends.

“I’m collecting data on things like peoples’ roles at their club, the size and location of the club, information about their men’s and women’s programs… and then compounding that, their memories of football and the quality of their experiences, and assessing which clubs are intentionally looking to raise awareness or utilise this World Cup to get more women and girls engaged in football.”

She’ll use this data, along with participation data collected by Football Victoria, to reach a conclusion on the social impact and legacy of the World Cup at a grassroots level.

But there are a few roadblocks. Attitudes and behaviours are hard to measure. And quantifying qualitative data is proving to be a difficult task for Elsa.

“Economic legacy, infrastructure, these are things you can tangibly measure. Social legacy is kind of a feeling. It’s challenging because it can be hard to tell – did these women and girls come to our sport because of the World Cup? Or did they come for other reasons?”

Elsa says that getting more women and girls wanting to play football isn’t the issue, it’s keeping them in the game. Cultural and social norms in sport and in football need to be challenged. If we want to keep women playing sport, we need to provide safe and welcoming spaces where they feel they want to be involved; whether that’s as a player, volunteer, official, coach or administrator.

“How can we ensure that women and girls come into our sport and then stay, as opposed to them coming in and having a poor experience? I hope my research will lead to better experiences for everyone.”

The data being collected is currently only representative of football in Victoria, but Elsa hopes her research will translate into other states to give the academic footballing community more of an idea of the legacy yet to come.

When asked what she hopes her research finds, Elsa had a simple answer:

“That more people are invested in football post-Women’s World Cup then they were before, and that those people stay invested long-term.”

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