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Volume 23 No. 17
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Sue Campbell: A champion for women’s sports

A tireless ambassador for women’s soccer in England, her ultimate target is seeing the Lionesses bring home a World Cup trophy.
Campbell is a former PE teacher and played netball for England.
Photo: Getty images
Campbell is a former PE teacher and played netball for England.
Photo: Getty images
Campbell is a former PE teacher and played netball for England.
Photo: Getty images

Sue Campbell, the head of women’s football for England’s Football Association, has presided over a dramatic rise in the popularity of women’s soccer in the United Kingdom and still has one important goal to fulfill: winning a major trophy with the Lionesses.

 

When she took on the challenge in 2016, Campbell was given three goals: double the fan base; double soccer participation levels; and win the Women’s World Cup in 2023.

The first two have been achieved. Now, Campbell hopes the Lionesses can eclipse the semifinal they reached in France this summer and win a major championship: the World Cup, the Olympics (as part of Team Great Britain) or the European Championships.

England will start as one of the favorites for all three. One stumbling block to World Cup and Olympic glory could be Team USA, the 2019 Women’s World Cup champions.

Campbell, who spent a year at the University of Maine, is a big fan of the American high school system, which she says “generates great athletes,” contrasting it with the U.K. school sports system that she says is in decline. “They [American girls] come into sport athletic,” she said.

Sue Campbell

■ Position: Head of Women’s Football, Football Association
■ Location: London
■ Education: Long Eaton Grammar School; Bedford College of Physical Education; University of Leicester
■ Experience: CEO, Youth Sport Trust; government adviser; chairman, UK Sport; head of women’s football, FA
■ Proudest professional achievement: London 2012 Olympics, hitting Team Great Britain’s medal target
■ Best business advice: Surround yourself with great people and give them roots to grow and wings to fly.

Should the Lionesses win a major trophy, it would round out a long career devoted to sports, education and charity for Campbell. The former PE teacher played netball for England at the under-21 level, was chairman of UK Sport (2003-10), has been awarded Commander and Member of the Order of the British Empire honors for her work, and played a crucial role in Team Great Britain winning a record haul of medals at the 2012 London Olympics.

“Sue was championing the women in sport agenda when it was the right thing to do rather than the fashionable thing to support,” said Andy Sutherden, head of international brand consulting for Creative Artists Agency. “A woman of high intellect, integrity and foresight. Everything running through the veins of female sport has her DNA.”

Campbell is enjoying playing a role in raising the profile of women’s soccer. A record crowd of 77,768 watched the Lionesses’ match against Germany on Nov. 9, which Campbell said shows the game is now at a “tipping point.”

“To have a crowd of that size coming to watch the women play is a fantastic statement where the game has gotten to,” Campbell said.

Campbell chatted recently with U.K. players about equal pay following news that women’s players in Australia had struck a landmark deal to earn the same as their male counterparts. England’s top players, Campbell said, are “very realistic” about what can be achieved, realizing that men’s soccer in Australia and the U.S., where there has also been a push for equal pay, is not the juggernaut it is in England.

“Equal pay is not what they are talking about; what they are talking about is equal opportunity,” she said. “They want fairness. They believe their surroundings are just as good as support as the men at the Lioness level, in terms of sports science, sports medicine.

“But I think it’s things like commercial rights [where there is an issue]. If a man turns up to do a promotional piece for a partner, they get paid an awful lot more than the women.”

The popularity of the women’s game may be on the rise, but Campbell is not standing still.

“I am enjoying it, I wouldn’t want to stop,” she said. “I have always said while I have the energy and I can make a sensible and good contribution, I will stay. While I can, I will.”

Bigger than football

Barclays last year became the first sponsor of the Women’s Super League in a three-year deal worth more than $13 million, including about $650,000 in prize money. The Football Association called the deal the biggest investment in a U.K. women’s sport by a brand.
Sue Campbell said it goes well beyond the financial investment.
“I think there is a big difference between sponsoring the men’s and sponsoring the women’s game,” she said. “With the men’s game, you are associating yourself with a very well-established big brand. In the women’s game, you are associating yourself with a real iconic brand around girls and women. It’s not just about football, it is bigger than that.
“For example, Barclays is interested in this in terms of equality in the workplace, helping to develop more women though their business. They are in not just for football. They are in it for a broader and bigger reason.
“I think that has made the partnerships we have gotten — and the emerging ones we are getting — really meaningful. It’s not just somebody coming in branding something. It literately is somebody coming in with a joint mission to change things. And that makes it very powerful for us.” — J.R.

John Reynolds is a writer in London.