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Exclusive Interview with Anita Asante: A Trailblazing Athlete and Equality Advocate

Anita Asante is an outstanding athlete and passionate equality campaigner. Over the last two decades, she played for such teams as Arsenal, Chelsea and the American team, Sky Blue Football Club, as well as Team GB at the London Olympics.

Recently, Anita was listed among the Most Popular Female LGBT Speakers, reflecting her ongoing campaigning for inclusivity. Find out more in this insightful interview, especially for Pride Month.

Can you describe your journey into professional football?

“My journey into professional football has been a long one. I would say I came into the game when it was largely amateur, and I was lucky enough to get discovered through the Arsenal Centre of Excellence as a child, around the age of 13 or 14.

“I always have to commend my Head of PE because she's the one who pushed me to go for this trial initially and saw my potential. So, I would say it's not just me alone, it's the people around me, it's the army. You have your family and friends that support you, then I've just been fortunate enough to have had longevity within the game.

“I watched the transformation of the game, from amateur to professional and the increased investment in the club structure. I'm living proof today that it can happen.”

What more must be done to tackle gender inequality in sports?

“Fundamentally, I think recognising athletes and opportunity as equal, giving young girls and young boys equal opportunities from the very base level, the grassroots level, foundations within clubs and giving the same level of resource and attention. It will not naturally cultivate and thrive on its own, but if you give someone that kind of space to feel empowered and show their ability, it can just grow.

“So, fundamentally you need to have the right grassroots foundation, but you also need people at the top to execute power, to be pulling in the same direction and recognise the equal value of both boys and girls, men and women, within different roles in sport.”

How did you build the confidence to speak up against injustice?

“It took a long time to discover that inner self-confidence and self-esteem. I think a lot of us can relate to the fact that you have opinions, and you want to share your thoughts, but you don't always have the confidence to do so.

“As my profile has also improved and increased within the sport, I recognise the power of sharing my opinion and thoughts through my platform - that's what comes with time. And I think age and life experience and my journey in the game are important, too.

“This includes playing abroad, meeting other players, and learning about the different challenges I think we all face - lots of young girls and women alike, especially women from my background. So, I felt it's even more important to use my platform to speak up about things.”

Can you describe a time when you faced hardship and how did you overcome the challenge?

“The toughest time I faced in my playing career was actually when I moved abroad for the very first time as a 21 or 22-year-old in the American League, which was the first professional league I'd ever got a chance to play in. Having that transition, leaving my family and friends for the first time, I had to find a lot of inner confidence and self-independence to navigate my way through this transition.

“But ultimately, I think [the biggest challenge was] when I experienced being traded from club to club, which was not within my power. The club was able to trade me on the spot to a different club and I had to uproot myself again and go through that transition multiple times. I would say that was the most difficult because you have a lot of questions and self-doubt and a lot of the unknown.

“You’re wondering, ‘will the next coach appreciate my talent? Will they want me to play in a team when I get on with my teammates? Will I transition into my environment comfortably?’ All those things were a challenge. Every time it happened, especially the first time I experienced it, I survived, and then became resilient. Then, you can deal with any challenge that you're going to face in the future.”

What do you hope people take away from your story?

“Ultimately, I hope that when they listen to my story, they either relate to it somehow or see that it's has not always been a straight trajectory to the elite game or that a lot of athletes, including myself, have different challenges and setbacks along the way. But, with the right support and self-belief, your passion can drive you.”

“Being in a sport that is male-dominated as well, a lot of young girls of my generation and older were probably pushed out of the game because ‘girls can't play football.’ But as long as you’re determined and believe in yourself and you keep having that passion, there's no reason why you can't fulfil your dreams and goals.”

This interview with Anita Asante was conducted by Roxanna Hayes.


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