Sue Lopez discusses girls in sport - the Theresa Bennett case



Sue Lopez talks about Theresa Bennett, who was banned from playing football by the Football Association (FA) in 1978, when she was 12 years old. Although the FA won the case, the media supported Theresa and other girls who wanted to play football. Sue Lopez comments on the positive impact that this public reaction had for girls who wanted to play football. In 1991 the ban was rescinded and from 1993 the FA has developed small-sided leagues for girls, allowing them the same access to football from a young age as boys. This demonstrates the significance of legislation to the lives of girls as well as adult women.

Do you think that all sports should be open to both sexes? Is further legislation required to ensure that this happens?

London 2012 was the first Olympic Games during which every participating country had at least one woman athlete on their team. What do you think about this? What structures can be put in place (whether through legislation or more broadly in society) to encourage more girls and women to take part in sport?



Theresa Bennett, she was playing for a boys’ team, which seems quite simple. It was in 1978, she was twelve, and she was banned by the FA from playing football with boys in a local league. So there was a court case - Theresa Bennett versus the FA. The FA’s decision to ban her was initially overturned on the grounds that it had failed to provide her with recreational facilities. But Section 44 of The Discrimination Act came into effect, the appeal was won because the judgement hinged on outmoded biological beliefs that women have many other qualities superior to those of men but they have not got the strength and stamina to run, kick, tackle and so on. So this was the thought of some academics. And Jennifer Hargreaves who was really quite infuriated by this. And this is how she felt about it, 'cos she indicated the fallacy of that argument by explaining that it meant that females, because of their physique, should not be allowed to play against males, ignoring the fact that girls were often bigger and stronger than boys in the five to eleven age category. But the good thing was that it provoked a lot of sympathy in the media even, and many other girls who were enthusiastic about football, you know, were sort of up in arms, so it caused quite a controversy so actually it had a very good impact. So the problem was overcome when there was a ban on girls playing mixed competitive football under eleven and the FA then suggested that the English Schools’ FA should take responsibility of developing girls’ football, as well as boys’ in schools. That was the start, but since then the FA now allow girls, and I can't quite remember what it is now, it’s possibly under nine, it might be a bit higher, I know it’s gone up a bit, that they can play mixed football. So, poor old Theresa, who went through the mill a bit, but helped.
Sue Lopez discusses girls in sport - the Theresa Bennett case
17 May 2012
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
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