England boss Sarina Wiegman is awed by her World Cup hopefuls’ advocacy away from competition but readily recognises their performance on the pitch is what ultimately provides the platform.
Just days after winning their first major tournament at last summer’s home Euros, the Lionesses collectively released a letter to then-Conservative leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss with a host of demands including a school football provision for girls identical to that offered to boys.
Their campaign paid off in March when the government responded with a new package of measures designed to grant equal access to all school sport, backed by over £600million in funding over the next two academic years.
“I’m incredibly proud of their social consciousness,” said Wiegman, speaking from England’s team hotel in Queensland as the Lionesses prepare for their World Cup opener in Brisbane on July 22nd.
“It’s so powerful, so strong and they articulate themselves so well. And they were ready the day after the final to put that letter in…. wow!
“There’s so much leadership in this team. They really want to have a positive impact on society and a positive change and I think they’ve done really, really well because things have changed.
“Now what we try to do is keep performing, keep being visible and keep using our voices to also sustain and make positive changes.”
The Lionesses open their World Cup campaign against Haiti on July 22 (PA Wire)
With the continent conquered, both England and Wiegman, who also led the Netherlands to their first European glory in 2017, have set their sights on the world.
The Lionesses drew 0-0 with Canada in a behind-closed-doors friendly on the Sunshine Coast on Friday – in their final warm-up match before the finals get under way – with 21 members of the 23-woman squad featuring.
Next up is an opening encounter with tournament debutants Haiti followed by meetings with group D rivals Denmark and China.
To date, England’s best finish at the World Cup was in 2015 when they finished third, while Wiegman and her Dutch side were runners-up to defending champions the United States at the 2019 tournament in France.
Last summer’s victory at Wembley launched the Lionesses into World Cup favourite territory and quickly made household names of the winning squad and their boss, who has tried to turn the spotlight towards causes she believes in, like paving better pathways for female coaches or working as an ambassador for the charity Plan International to advance equality for girls and women around the world.
When compared to the “serious”, almost myopically win-focused player she once was, Wiegman said: “I think about the bigger picture a little more – absolutely.
“But my main focus stays on my job. And with that job, doing well in that job, then you get those opportunities. I’m aware of that too.
England manager Sarina Wiegman says her side have ‘changed society’ (PA Wire)
“You can’t change that because this is how you are. But I would not, like, do that first and then think of performance. That’s because that performance is my job and that gives me the most joy.
“Yes, of course, I really love the medals, but what I’m proud of most, absolutely most, is now, young girls have perspective, and young girls can play football, and young girls can wear shirts to show whichever (player’s) achievement, and that makes me the most proud.
“When you go to the grocery store and people tell you, ‘my daughter was wearing that shirt, but also my son is wearing that shirt now too’. We’ve changed society.”