England and Arsenal star Leah Williamson says a fallout like the one Spain is experiencing between its soccer federation and players was “inevitable.”
The players have been at loggerheads with the Spanish federation (RFEF) ever since former president Luis Rubiales, who resigned from his post earlier this month, gave star player Jennifer Hermoso an unwanted kiss on the lips in the aftermath of Spain winning its first Women’s World Cup.
A month on from the incident, a breakthrough in the dispute now appears to have been reached after the two parties, along with the government’s High Council of Sport (CSD), came to a series of agreements.
But Williamson, who was speaking to CNN from the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, says the dispute is symptomatic of the current conditions of the women’s game around the world.
“It’s a moment that was inevitable based off of the environment that we’ve had in football,” Williamson told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies. “I’m glad that it’s getting the exposure that it is, but as a fellow footballer I really feel for the girls.
“No player should have to go through what they’re going through and it’s the exact reason why I’m here at the UN, because I have an opportunity to speak on improving conditions for young women going forward.
“We obviously have issues in more places than we think, especially a European country like Spain, which appears to be fine from the outside and this turned out not to be.”
Williamson says she understands her “responsibility as a female footballer” to help improve conditions for others around the world, and will “stand beside” her colleagues and competitors “whenever they need me.”
These sorts of issues are widespread in women’s soccer, as Williamson and her England teammates know all too well.
On Thursday, Lionesses’ stand-in captain Millie Bright told reporters that the players had finally come to an agreement with the English FA over pay and bonuses, ending a months-long dispute that overshadowed the team’s World Cup preparations.
Every cloud has a silver lining
After injuring her knee during Arsenal’s Women’s Super League match against Manchester United in April, Williamson was later given the diagnosis that soccer players dread the most: a ruptured ACL.
It meant her dream of leading England out at a World Cup was over, at least for another four years, and several months of grueling rehab awaited her before she would be able to take to the pitch again.
But what was undoubtedly one of the worst moments of her career has now offered her the opportunity to experience things she otherwise wouldn’t have.
Williamson recently visited Za’atari in Jordan, the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, to see how soccer is helping girls and communities there and then spoke about her experiences at the UN summit in New York on Tuesday.
It’s fair to say she’s found it inspiring.
“People keep saying: ‘Thank for coming.’ I’m like: ‘No, thank you for having me,’’ she says.
“Because even for me to listen and speak to these people, you come away and you just think: ‘Right, how do I change the world?’”
Williamson became the first England women’s soccer star and the first Arsenal player to speak on stage at the UN and the 26-year-old asked for help in providing equal opportunities for girls to play sport around the world.
On her recent visit to Jordan with the Coaching for Life program – set up jointly by The Arsenal Foundation and international charity Save the Children – Williamson saw first-hand how soccer is helping, including one father who changed his views on girls playing soccer after seeing how happy and confident his daughters were when arriving home.
Williamson describes soccer as a “powerful tool” to create change and saw how the the green space and soccer pitch Arsenal and Save the Children have built in Za’atari is impacting the daily lives of children in the camp.
“These girls, they’re talking to me about how it’s completely change their lives,” she recalls of her time there.
“They have self-confidence. They ask for what they want. They say no to things that they don’t want to do that society has sort of conditioned them to maybe believe that they have to in the past.
“It’s just incredible to see the difference. The way the boys have changed their opinions and the way they approach things with their sisters and with the community to encourage girls to become who they can be is quite incredible.”