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“We need concrete action” – playing football in Switzerland

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“We need concrete action” – playing football in Switzerland

“When I was little it was natural for me to just play because I didn’t really realise that I’m a girl, I just played.” BSC Young Boys player Meret Wälti speaks to sportanddev about her experiences growing up in Switzerland playing football, and what this years World Cup represents for her.

Meret Wälti is a student at the University of Bern studying Social Anthropology, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and Social Sciences. She grew up in the small village of Langnau in Emmental, Switzerland. She plans to do a masters at the London School of Economics in Women, Peace and Security.

Meret is also a football player at Berner Sport Club Young Boys (BSCYB) Women. She began playing after her father started the first women’s football team in her village. As a teacher, he knew that many girls wanted to play and, soon enough her whole class was playing.

BSCYB Women scouted Meret when she was 14 and she played in the national team until U17s. But in 2015 she stopped playing due to the difficulty of juggling training, Saturday games, school, and work.  She resumed playing in 2018 and went back to the same club, but certain frustrations remain:

The [Men’s team at BSCYB] were champions last year, and I don’t feel part of the same club. It’s not really the same, they have such different conditions under which they play. We don’t get a full field to train on; we don’t get our own changing rooms; we never have anything to do with the men’s team. We are treated like the juniors.” The men’s team also gets paid but the women don’t.

In the lead up to the World Cup, Meret reached out to bars around Bern asking them to show the matches, but only roughly half of those she contacted agreed to show the matches.

“When I asked the bars they didn’t even know that the World Cup is this year, so the awareness that this is taking place in the neighbouring country [France] was not there.

“And now we had a problem with the police because normally if you want to show games […] over a longer period of time you have to ask the city if you can do it because of the sound, because they wanted to do it outside. So they wrote to us and said because the public interest is not that big and we didn’t get many applications they cannot allow it.

“It was a really sexist answer because with the Men’s World Cup it’s never a question if they show it or not […] Now we are still showing it but we are putting the screen up against the window so it isn’t outside.”

Meret highlighted the lack of awareness as a major barrier to promoting the sport, particularly in Switzerland; “Switzerland is always a little bit slow, and backwards. In Germany there is a lot of publicity with the German team, and they have a lot of sponsors […] You never see the Swiss players on TV. As England shows – if the clubs take the risk and invest in the women’s teams there is a huge development in a short time.

So it can be done – it has been done. This year’s world cup has globally rallied up much more attention than previous years. But there is still a long way to go.

What does the world cup mean to Meret?

For me it’s more about passion because they [the players] have to do a lot to get to this point. Because if you’re a girl you don’t have the same institutions that help you to become very good. So it’s more special to reach this point.

“For example, if you’re Swiss, you have to go to another country because in Switzerland you cannot play professionally. So you have to leave your family and friends to do what you love, and that’s a big thing to do.

To see change we need a joint effort, from the national and international football associations, the media, the fans, the players: “there has to be individuals to make an effort…its about taking action.

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Thursday, June 20, 2019 - 15:15