The safety and performance of women’s soccer players is suffering as their equipment is still primarily designed for the men’s game, a study has shown.
England women’s football captain Leah Williamson has written a paper published in the journal Sports Engineering highlighting the lack of progress in developing technology specifically for elite women’s football.
Report author Dr Katrine Okholm Kryger noted that women’s feet differ in shape and volume from men’s, and said ill-fitting boots could pinch the foot in unwanted places, creating a risk of injury.
“We know women are two to five times more at risk of developing an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury”, which affects the knee, a senior lecturer in sports rehabilitation at St Mary’s University in London told Sky News.
Other risks include deformed feet, skin conditions such as blisters, and even stress fractures.
Many major manufacturers are developing women’s specific boots that should be suitable for 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cupbut Dr Okholm Kryger said the lack of available football boots was a widespread problem.
She said she wanted to open up discussions and “good-faith nudges towards the need for manufacturers and research organizations to pay more attention to this area”.
A recent review found only 32 published scientific articles on women’s football technology.
Another problem is kit. The report described how women’s soccer shorts were “very short and considered revealing and sexualized by some players”.
Some players fear visible sweat marks and signs of menstruation, a concern that has also been tennis player.
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The study raises the issue of sports bras, which were primarily developed for runners rather than football players who change directions quickly. 44% of elite female athletes reported breast pain.
Many athletes are required by gear sponsors to wear branded sports bras, which may not fit properly, and it is common for players to wear two bras.
Then there’s football itself. Some concerns have been raised about the size and quality of the ball due to the “increased incidence and severity of concussions” in women’s football compared to men’s football.
The paper raises other questions about soccer technology and engineering, including: the design of soccer fields, tracking devices, and menstrual cycle tracking gadgets.
Dr Okholm Kryger said “we need evidence to guide manufacturers” so that they can “make products designed with female athletes in mind”.
Marie-Christine Boucher, head of women’s football at the Professional Footballers’ Association, said: “From a performance standpoint, we should expect players to have tailored kit to get them at their best.
“A lot of research and investment in this area is always driven by commercial opportunities.
“I hope the growth of the women’s game, and the growing market for girls and young women participating in the game, will act as a catalyst,” she added.