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17th February 2023

Endometriosis: The underappreciated health condition that impacts female footballers

There are various health conditions that impact female footballers, but not their male counterparts, meaning conditions such as Endometriosis have been significantly overlooked
Endometriosis: The underappreciated health condition that impacts female footballers
Women’s international friendly – England vs Australia, Craven Cottage am 09.10.2018.

Women’s health in football has become an increasingly discussed topic, with notable figures such as  Leah Williamson and Emma Hayes speaking about their struggles with endometriosis.  

Endometriosis is a long-term condition where the tissue lining extends in the womb. This may result in excruciating period pains, alongside other symptoms such as back pain and nausea which are worsened during periods. For many, the waiting time for treatment has worsened, with a reported 60% increase. In addition, a survey published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that 80% of women with endometriosis have reported worsening mental health, limiting their social activities, and many felt ignored.

Arsenal and England defender, Leah Williamson, has revealed the struggles she endured due to endometriosis during the Euro 2022 campaign. She told Women’s Health that she feared it would make her unable to play during the tournament’s earlier stages.  This was worsened due to the concussion she suffered before the Euros. However, Williamson managed to overlook her pains, as she became the first England Captain to lift a major international trophy since 1966.

Endometriosis is not an issue that is limited to players. Emma Hayes, Chelsea Women’s manager, underwent an emergency hysterectomy due to her difficulties with endometriosis. Hysterectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the womb,  involving a lengthy recovery process. During her recovery, Hayes could not manage her team in person.

Emma Hayes leading Chelsea out at Wembley. She has publicly advocated for greater awareness of endometriosis – Photo: Lee Fraser @ Wikimedia Commons

Hayes even criticised the government’s lack of care for women’s health due to the prolonged waiting times for appointments with gynaecologists. On her return, she reiterated in a press conference that it was the government’s responsibility to improve healthcare to ensure medical professionals were up to date with women’s health.

Whilst acknowledging her privilege of having health insurance, she believes it is a political choice to have a lack of investment in women’s health, and she remains determined to use her position to continue bringing these issues to light. In agreement with Williamson, Hayes believes the situation would be different if men suffered from these conditions.

Over last summer, there were discussions of removing white shorts due to concerns surrounding playing on their periods, with Beth Mead (England, and Arsenal Women’s player) describing it as “not practical .” However, England teammate, Georgia Stanway, believed that it was not an easy decision, as moving away from the traditional England colours would be a difficult step to make.

Recently, the FA has discussed with FIFA a potential colour change of the shorts for the upcoming World Cup to a more favourable, darker colour. With Nike, the official kit provider for the FA, being fully supportive of this potential change, there is a strong likelihood that England may debut different colour shorts, and make history for England women who have worn white historically.

This allows important steps to be made in highlighting women’s health and ensuring female players are comfortable, without adding to their anxiety about playing to their best ability. Mead is very hopeful for a change, which Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion have already implemented, switching to darker shade shorts.

A study across six European countries, including Poland and  Spain, revealed that there is a severe underappreciation of the complexities surrounding women’s health and football. Despite this, developments have been made with Chelsea FC becoming the first club to adapt training sessions around the menstrual cycles of the players. In addition, internationally, Sarin Wiegman, England Women’s football manager, introduced tracking apps during their Euro 2022 winning journey.

However, there is still room for improvement across the footballing and sports world, as women’s health remains a taboo subject.

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