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Using Euro 2022 to Wash Away the Sins of Last Year’s Final Will Harm, Not Help, the Women’s Game

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Matt Readman, chief strategy officer at Dark Horses on why women’s football needs now, more than sponsors with purpose campaigns, it needs to hook fans in

You can see the headlines already 

“What a difference a year makes”

“Women’s Euros washes away the sins of the past” 

“The only flare in sight this year was the flare on the pitch” 

It’s been exactly one year since the appalling scenes at Wembley during the Euro 2020 final. Scenes that shocked a country and dulled the national sheen that Gareth Southgate’s young team had worked so hard to create. 

Just over a year later and the Euro 2022 Final will take place in the same stadium. The atmosphere and behaviour will be different. It will be safer, more family-friendly and more respectful. 

And thank god for that right? Just what the women’s game needs? 


We should not use EURO 2022 as a form of cultural baptism to wash away the demons of the men’s game.

Marketers might well be tempted to do so. We are taught to find points of differentiation - identify your competitive advantage and squeeze. This seems like a golden opportunity to show why women’s football is different, and how it can lead us all to a better football future.

But doing so commits the sin of chastity; one of the 7 Deadly Sins of Marketing Women’s Sport. Here’s why making women’s football the better-behaved sibling to the unruly men’s game is a mistake. 

We want to get to a place where EURO 2022 can have the same cultural impact and meaning of EURO 2020. We want it to have the ability to stop a nation, we want it to include all fans. The problems we saw a year ago are a problem for all of football and we need to address them as such, we shouldn’t create a divide between men’s and women’s football. 

Doing so will have a deeper, more harmful knock-on effect. It puts undue pressure on female athletes to behave in a more wholesome way. Because sponsors have been attracted by the idea of a puritan version of the sport then athletes have to conform.

This exacerbates a problem we already see that female athletes are treated much more harshly by both legislative organisers and the broader public for acts of petulance, indiscipline and aggression.

Why do female athletes get treated this way? It’s part of a wider cultural and historical expectation of female behaviour and it’s a very dangerous trait to intentionally bring into women’s sport.

Female athletes have to be free to express themselves and behave with the same licence that their male colleagues enjoy. 

This is not just about equality, it actually enhances the spectacle on the pitch. Sanitising women’s football makes the game dull, and that’s the last thing we can afford to do. 

Fans and media may condemn bad behaviour on the pitch but they love it nonetheless. 

It creates drama and debate. Some of the most memorable moments in sport involve acts of infamy. Sporting stories need villains as well as heroes. They may make sponsors wince but they are good for the health of the sport. They pull fans in.

That’s what women’s football needs now, more than sponsors with purpose campaigns, it needs to hook fans in. Fans who fall in love with the characters, the storylines, the rivalries and the fierce patriotism. If that means we take on a little dirt, then so be it.