The safety and performance of women football players is suffering because their kit is still largely designed for the men’s game, a study says.
Captain of the England women’s football team Leah Williamson has contributed to a paper, published in Sports Engineering, highlighting the lack of progress in developing technology specifically for elite women’s football.
Report author Dr Katrine Okholm Kryger points out women’s feet differ from men’s in shape and volume, and said there’s a risk of injury from ill-fitting boots which can squeeze the foot in unwanted places.
The senior lecturer in sports rehabilitation at St Mary’s University in London told Sky News that "we know that women have a two to five times higher risk of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries", which affect the knee.
Other risks include foot deformation, skin conditions like blisters, and even stress fractures.
Many of the major manufacturers are developing women’s specific boots which should be available for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, but Dr Okholm Kryger said the lack of available football boots is a general concern.
She said she hopes to start a discussion and "kindly nudge manufacturers and research towards to the need to pay more attention is this area".
A recent review identified only 32 published scientific articles on technology in women’s football.
Another issue is the kit. The report describes how women’s football shorts "are short and perceived by some players to be exposing and sexualising them".
Some players fear visible sweat marks and signs of menstruation, a concern that’s also been raised by tennis players.
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And the study raises the question of sports bras, which were largely developed for runners and not footballers who rapidly change direction. Breast pain is reported by 44% of elite women athletes.
Many athletes are required to wear branded sports bras by kit sponsors, which might not fit correctly, and it’s common for players to wear two bras.
Then there’s the football itself. Some concerns have been flagged about the ball size and mass because of "increased incidence and severity of concussion" in women’s football compared to men’s.
The paper raises other questions about football technology and engineering including: the design of football pitches, tracking devices, and menstrual cycle tracking gadgets.
Dr Okholm Kryger said "we need evidence to guide manufacturers" so manufacturers can "produce products designed with the female athlete in mind".
Marie-Christine Bouchier, director of women’s football at the Professional Footballers’ Association, said: "From a performance point of view we should want players to have equipment that is tailored to allow them to be at their best.
"A lot of the research and investment in this area will always be driven by commercial opportunity.
She added: "I hope that the growth of the women’s game, and the growing market of girls and young women who are getting involved in the game, acts as a catalyst."
© Sky News 2022