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Why women footballers wear boots designed for men and children

Even though women have been playing football professionally for decades, it is only recently that big brands are creating boots for women

Women footballers regularly complain of pain and discomfort while playing and training.
Women footballers regularly complain of pain and discomfort while playing and training. (AFP)

It’s no secret that women need shoes that are designed specifically for their feet. Running is a multibillion-dollar sport and stores across the world are full of running shoes that are tailor-made for women. Football is bigger in terms of revenue but the women’s game, despite the unprecedented success (both in popularity and revenues) after the pandemic, contributes but a small fraction to it. 

And revenue, perhaps, is the biggest contributing factor to the fact that the majority of women footballers the world over still play in shoes designed for either men or kids. Small wonder then, that 82% of women footballers in Europe complain of experiencing discomfort playing and training in these boots. This truth emerged in a survey report released in June by the European Club Association’s (ECA) high performance advisory group. 

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The FIFA Women’s World Cup is more than three decades old, and women have been playing football in national leagues and at the international level for even longer. Yet no major sports brand had designed football boots specifically for women footballers till Puma launched a women’s specific fit in July 2021. The company did so, they said, after having “researched into the anatomy of the female and the male foot shape, and the results show that the shape of the female foot is different,” says Binwant Behgal, head of sports marketing at Puma India. 

Not only are women’s feet shaped differently, they are also lighter than men and their running form is different, which makes the shape and length of the studs designed specifically to women’s requirements vital. “The boots need to match the anatomical differences. Therefore, the Puma women’s football boot features a lower instep, along with reduced volume in the mid-foot and the forefoot to create a better fitting boot for our female athletes,” says Behgal. Currently, Puma has women-specific fits in three of its ranges (Ultra, Future and King) and 90% of the brand’s female athletes wear women’s specific fits.

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The ECA study also notes that “proper fit is an important feature related to comfort of footwear but also injury risk, fatigue, mobility, performance, and alignment of the lower limb.” Currently, only 18% women customise their boots while the majority use specialised insoles and, at times, also cut the shoes at the back to widen the heel. 

The ECA study goes on to add that injury concerns extend beyond the fit. For men’s boots the studs size and type (for soft or hard surfaces) are matched to specific playing surfaces to optimise traction. The same hasn’t really been done for women, which has led to serious injuries, including ACL tears such as those suffered by England’s Euro-winning captain Leah Williamson and Euro 2022’s best player Beth Mead. They are both out of the tournament along with a host of other stars who are nursing the same injury. A common reason for ACL injuries in elite women’s football is increased shoe-surface traction. due to which the boots gets stuck in the ground. Boot-soles that produce too much traction increase the risk of injury.

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A few weeks ago, Nike launched what it calls its most innovative and deeply-researched football boots for women: the Phantom Luna. These feature a tighter fit around the ankle, a circular stud pattern under the toes and bigger touch zones because of the smaller size of women’s feet. The brand claims it put women footballers “at the centre of the process” and this is its “most meaningful investment in women yet.” 

Another American sports brand, Under Armour, launched its first football boots for women last week. These launches have coincided with the phenomenal rise in the profile of, and consequent investment in, women’s football over the last three years. The footballing world is expecting big things from on the upcoming tournament and it is likely to be an influential one. More leagues and players are likely to turn professional, with a chance for more women to make a living from the game they love. And proper tools—in this case kit, facilities and boots— are the least that professionals need to ply their trade. 

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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