Throughout the Women’s World Cup this last two weeks, one of the biggest talking points has been the standard of goalkeeping. With the height of the average goal being eight foot tall and the average female keeper being just 5’8″, the female keepers are at a natural disadvantage.
One particular example people have used to illustrate this point was USA’s 13-0 thrashing of Thailand. The Thai goalkeeper from that game, Sukanya Chor Charoenying, stands at just 5’5″ – more than two and a half feet smaller than the goal. For reference, the average male goalkeeper stands at 6’3″.
As a result of this, there have been multiple solutions offered. England keeper Karen Bardsley suggested male and female goalkeepers should train together at academy level. Meanwhile, Chelsea Ladies coach Emma Hayes says she thinks smaller goals would be a decent idea. In the column she writes for The Times, she compared football to other sports in this department.
“But if you look at some other sports, someone must have decided one day that, actually, it would be daft to get women — average height in the UK 5ft 3in compared with 5ft 9in for men — to run over the same sprint hurdles in the Olympics. The women’s hurdles were made to be nine inches shorter, 33in compared with 42,” she wrote.
Hayes continued, going on to talk about the average height of goalkeepers in both the women’s and men’s top professional divisions in England.
“So let’s try to set emotion aside and consider some facts, such as the average height of a goalkeeper in men’s football being at least 6ft 1in — latest figures put it as high as 6ft 3in in the Premier League — with goalkeepers in the Women’s Super League (WSL) about 5ft 8in. That is a significant disparity, particularly when the dimensions of a full-size outdoor goal are 8ft high and 24ft wide.”
She went on to talk about how she doesn’t think it should be labelled as sexist for a male to call for goals to be smaller in women’s football.
“I heard Carly Telford, who plays for me at Chelsea, suggest it is about improving how we coach goalkeeping and we can always do our best to work on agility and positioning. But unless we are going to scout for women only of very unusual height, this could be a persistent issue. I don’t want to see men called sexist for daring to discuss how the women’s game is different,” she continued. “The facts are that, in all sorts of little ways, it is. We should be able to discuss why that might be good and bad.”
One person who drastically disagreed with this was former USA goalkeeper, Hope Solo. As ever, Solo was quick to point out how sexist it is and pointed out that in her opinion, the problem is a lack of funding for women’s keepers.
“If there was truly a problem with women tending the net, then we could talk about it,” the 37-year-old continued. “What is sexist is assuming that women need concessions. If you believe in the adaptability of humans then we should be striving to develop great keepers by giving women better coaching and training.
“Goalkeeper coaching has historically been severely underfunded. I don’t care about the average height of women, we shouldn’t be looking for average players, we should look for spectacular athletes. It should take one of a kind players to make it to the top level. Not everybody can do it.”
Surely this is something that makes sense. Despite Solo’s words, it is not sexist to say women should be given concessions – as Hayes pointed out, women are naturally shorter so asking them to tend a goal the same size as the one a man would tend puts them at a disadvantage.
Unless they’re only going to scout women of a freakishly tall nature for their gender in modern times, it’s not feasible. It’s silly to ask a 5 foot tall lady to cover an 8 foot goal – as they do in other sports, such as hurdling, making the goal shorter would make perfect sense.
Sorry, Hope. I’m with Emma Hayes on this one.