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Heather Knight – Former FA chairman’s comments on women show ‘there’s still a lot of work to do’

Heather Knight believes comments by former Football Association chairman Greg Clarke have highlighted that there is still work to be done for sportswomen to achieve equality with their male counterparts.

Clarke resigned from the FA and from his role as FIFA vice-president this week after using a series of racist and offensive phrases while speaking at a parliamentary committee meeting.

He was also criticised for saying a coach had told him that a lack of women’s goalkeepers was because girls “don’t like having the ball kicked at them hard”.

Knight, the England women’s cricket captain, said there were still “lots of issues” surrounding how women in sport are viewed and treated.

“To have someone so high up in football to say that is not a great place to be,” Knight told Sky Sports News. “There’s a lot going on at the moment in terms of women’s football academies not being able to train whereas the boys’ academies are [under UK Covid-19 restrictions].

“It highlights that there are still a lot of issues to be a girl in sport. It’s not a problem purely for football, there are lots of examples from other sports where girls don’t get the same opportunities as guys. I think it highlights there’s still a lot of work to do in that area and still a lot of changes that need to be made.”

Boys’ football academies were allowed to stay open during a second national lockdown because they fell within the FA’s interpretation of government guidelines on elite sport, while girls’ academies initially remained closed.

Following political pressure, girls’ academies will be allowed to open, although Baroness Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, told Telegraph Sport that she expected only “one or two” to be able to do so because of the costs involved in complying with Covid-19 prevention measures – a problem not faced by the significantly better resourced boys’ academies.

Knight acknowledged that many positive changes had occurred in women’s cricket and women’s sport over the course of her decade-long England career.

“When I was growing up [cricket] was very much a male-dominated sport,” Knight said. “I played men’s cricket down in Devon and you had to have a thick skin sometimes [due to] the comments you got.

“Luckily a lot of that has changed. I think perceptions to women in cricket and in sport in general is miles away from where they were while I was growing up.

“It has become a lot more normal to become a woman in sport, and a lot easier for young girls to aspire to be that and to emulate the people they are now seeing a lot more in the media, obviously with women’s sport being a lot more visible. I think we’ve still got progress to make, but in terms of my career playing for England for the last 10 years, it’s changed massively.”

During a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee hearing on Tuesday, Clarke referred to “coloured footballers”, stereotyped south Asians and Afro-Caribbean people as possessing “different career interests” and described homosexuality as a “life choice”.

Asked in the hearing if he would like to withdraw the use of the word “coloured”, Clarke apologised for using the term.

In his resignation statement, Clarke said: “My unacceptable words in front of Parliament were a disservice to our game and to those who watch, play, referee and administer it. This has crystallised my resolve to move on. I am deeply saddened that I have offended those diverse communities in football that I and others worked so hard to include.”

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