Increasing diversity within its women’s team is a ‘key priority,’ Arsenal said in a statement
English football club Arsenal has said it accepts that it has diversity issues within its women’s first-team squad after drawing scorn online for posting a team photograph that didn’t feature any black or ethnic minority (BAME) players.
“We acknowledge our current women’s first-team squad does not reflect the diversity that exists across the club and communities we represent,” Arsenal said in a statement to sports publication The Athletic on Sunday.
The London-based team added: “Increasing participation among young women and girls from diverse backgrounds is a key priority,” and the club will strive “to continue to drive greater diversity and inclusion and create a sense of belonging for everyone connected to the club.”
England youth international Michelle Agyemang, who is black, has been temporarily loaned to another English club, Watford FC, and was therefore not present for the team photograph.
Accusations of a lack of diversity within British women’s football have been common in recent years, particularly after the English national team briefly had an all-white women’s squad in early 2021. England also didn’t feature any BAME players in its starting lineup for its victory against Germany in the Women’s Euro 2022 final last year.
The women’s game in England has also received criticism for having the majority of its training bases and academies in rural areas outside of large population centers, potentially hindering access to inner-city children – many of whom would be ethnically diverse.
The English Football Association (FA) announced in February that it was undertaking an overhaul of its female player pathway standards following a three-year review into diversity issues. The FA said it intends to ensure that “95% of players [can] access an Emerging Talent Center within one hour of where they live by 2024.”
Until such strides start to bear fruit, however, women’s football in England will be considered a “middle-class sport,” according to Chelsea manager Emma Hayes. “If you want a diverse group involved with our game at the elite level then perhaps we should be traveling into the cities in a more profound way.”
By contrast, Arsenal’s men’s football team features several players from ethnically diverse backgrounds, including Gabriel Jesus, William Saliba, Thomas Partey, and England international Bukayo Saka – who was targeted with racial abuse online after he missed a crucial penalty in the Euro 2020 final against Italy two years ago.