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While the image of Spanish captain Olga Carmona holding the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy still lingers, there is much talk of legacy. Everyone involved with women’s football is eager to build on the tournament’s record-breaking viewing figures to effect real change in women’s sport.

Though England’s team (known as the Lionesses) lost in the final of the 2023 tournament, they created a powerful legacy just months before. After winning the UEFA Women’s Euro Championship – the first major tournament win for any England football team (male or female) since 1966 – the squad fought for an even more impactful result: a commitment from the British Government to provide minimum levels of physical education (PE) for schoolgirls, along with equal access to all school sport, including football.

Just three days after England’s win, the Euros squad wrote an open letter to Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak (the two Conservative MPs then competing to be elected as British Prime Minister). The Lionesses’ Euros win no doubt played a role in influencing Truss and Sunak, but driving change – like winning a major football tournament – requires a range of tactics. In their one-page letter the squad employed six different persuasive strategies to fight for something few of them had experienced as children: the simple right to play a game they loved.

  1. Setting out a clear ask.
    After an introductory paragraph that positioned their Euros win as "only the beginning”, the letter set out their overall aim: "We want every young girl in the nation to be able to play football at school”.
  2. Including evidence of a problem / need for change.
    The letter included a statistic to highlight the current lack of football provision: "Only 63% of girls can play football in PE lessons”. As the squad pointed out, this means that girls who feel inspired by their own performance can end up, "going to school and not being able to play”.
  3. Telling a personal story.
    "We were often stopped from playing,” the letter says, before explaining that squad members were forced to create their own teams, travelling far and wide in order to play football wherever they could.
  4. Focusing on solutions.
    The letter acknowledges the success of the national team, and the growth of women’s football in general, while stating that there’s, "still a long way to go”. In order to deliver equal access to football, the squad highlight the value and importance of investing in and supporting female PE teachers.
  5. Sharing a vision.
    In a powerful penultimate paragraph, the letter focuses on what could be: "this generation of girls deserve more. They deserve to play football at lunchtime, they deserve to play football in PE lessons and they deserve to believe they can one day play for England.” This paints a picture of the impact change could deliver.
  6. An invitation to be part of something.
    The letter ends by offering Truss or Sunak, "an opportunity to make a difference”, pointing out that if they invest in girls’ football they’ll "impact millions of young girls’ lives”.

Like the myriad potential goal-scorers on England’s team, each of these persuasive strategies is able to hit the target. Some will have more impact on decision-makers who focus on numbers and evidence. Some will have more impact on people who care about the process of delivering change. Others, still, will impact anyone who makes decisions based on what they feel in their heart.

The Lionesses’ multi-pronged game plan ultimately hit the spot. On International Women’s Day this year, the British Government announced a multi-year funding package designed to enable schools to make long-term plans for PE and school sport, including girls’ football. So, while the Lionesses regularly inspire young girls that they might one day play for England, they also provide food for thought for anyone trying to win support for change.

Anna Faherty is an author for accountingcpd. To see all courses written by her, click here.

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