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Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir fyrirliði landsliðs Íslands í fótbolta
Photo: Golli.

Women’s Euro Stadium Choices ‘Disrespectful to Women’s Football’

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, the captain of Iceland’s national women’s football team, had strong words this week for the stadiums that have been chosen for the women’s European Championship, which will take place in England this summer, ESPN reports. The choice of several low-capacity arenas are “embarrassing,” Sara Björk remarked, and “not the respect we deserve. They haven’t prepared for the fact that we can sell more than 4,000, it is disrespectful to women’s football.”

Sara Björk made the remarks while speaking to the podcast Their Pitch and was particularly referring to the 5,000-seat Manchester City Academy stadium, where two of Iceland’s games will be played. “I am disappointed with the arenas we have been given,” she said. “It is shocking—we play a tournament in England with several large arenas, and we get to play at a training facility that takes around 5,000 spectators.”

A Euro 2022 spokesperson responded to Sara Björk’s critiques saying, “Manchester City Academy is not a training ground. It is the official home stadium of Manchester City Women’s Football Club…We believe that with two of the biggest football stadiums in England [Old Trafford and Wembley], four venues with a capacity of 30,000 or more, two venues over 10,000 and two stadiums under 10,000, the right mix of stadiums has been chosen to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential.”

FA’s stadium choices ‘felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now,’ says Guardian football writer

In a piece for The Guardian, however, football writer Suzanne Wrack called Sara Björk’s frustrations “understandable,” saying “her remarks highlighted a number of important questions, chiefly among them whether the Football Association was ambitious enough in its choice of venues and whether it has done enough to adapt to the accelerating growth of the game? Arguably, the answer to both questions is no.”

Wrack goes on to point out that while women’s football, and the public’s interest in it, was in a much different place four years ago when England’s Football Association (FA) made its bid to host the tournament, “the signs of potentially rapid growth were already there and were either overlooked, ignored or woefully underestimated.” She continued by saying that “[i]t was, and always has been, clear that major international competitions qualitatively impact the growth of the women’s game.” Preceded then as it was by the launching of the Women’s Super League as a full-time professional league in 2018, the 2019 World Cup, and a broader, stated goal of doubling the fanbase by 2020, the FA’s choice of stadiums “felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now.”

‘They should 100% reconsider’

Responding to the FA’s claim that they’ve chosen “the right mix of stadiums…to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential,” Sara Björk noted that both of Iceland’s matches at the academy have already sold out, and she believes that these sales, as well as sell-outs across the group phases, speak for themselves.

“But matches will be played in larger arenas that I’m sure will sell out,” she continued. “Women’s football explodes, and you start to get the respect you deserve. It’s getting better—more money is being pumped in now and it’s going in the right direction. But there are still things that need to improve.”

“They should 100% reconsider [changing the stadiums],” Sara Björk concluded. “Because if you look at the reactions and how many people buy tickets and how popular it has become, then you have to reconsider.”

The Women’s Euro 2022 will be held from July 6 – 31; Iceland will play July 10 (vs. Belgium); July 14 (vs Italy); and July 18 (vs France). You can listen to Sara Björk’s full interview with Their Pitch (in English) here.

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