I wrote to EA Sports every year from FIFA12 until women's managers were introduced in career mode.
I remember clearly that the idea of women being avatar managers caused one of two reactions in the knuckle-dragging communities:
Why do you care? What difference does a cartoon women make? Why are you wasting so much time writing to a computer game? It doesn't change reality: women don't matter!
The idea of having female managers, even in avatar form, repulses me. Why are women trying to ruin the only thing in the world that matters to me (football).
I remember once, a man from the EA Sports design team met up with one of my heroes Rafael Benitez. Rafa posted about it on his Instagram page and I commented asking why my name had to be Mr Helen Hardy on FIFA career mode. For days I had to mute my Instagram because fans of my own childhood club were tormenting me. I'm lesser than in football because I have a vagina. Sometimes I have to keep reminding myself of that.
After EA introduced women managers, women's international teams and player ratings for women (around FIFA17-19) I really thought that maybe we'd got through? Maybe the people who'd been standing on their own and screaming at the top of their voices had finally been heard, but alas, EA were simply throwing us scraps. FIFA 21 is insulting to women.
Why am I so bothered about a silly computer game?
FIFA games are played by around 45 million unique users across the globe. The EA series has sold around 283 million copies (as of FIFA 2019 edition). It has reach. Why do I care?Well, simply in the words of Billie Jean King: "You have to see it to be it".
Sometimes I imagine being a boy who loved football. I imagine what it would've been like to grow up in the 90's and dream of playing for Real Madrid. I imagine what it would've been like to be able to play every lunch time at school with my friends. I imagine what it would've been like to get home, switch my computer game on and imagine what it would be like to manage Newcastle United or play alongside Shearer. These were not dreams that any girl in the 90's could've had.
Even in 2017 the idea of a woman managing any men's football team was too far a stretch for even a computer game to dream up. So I remained as Mr Helen Hardy.
So what's wrong with me now? I got my wish right: There are now 5 female avatars and 6 male avatars on career mode. You can play as a lioness if you want to? They have Alex Morgan (rated 90... *side eye emoji*). I need to shut up and get back in the kitchen right?
For me, we keep breaking boundaries as women in sport. The women's world cup was ground breaking. We physically didn't have enough coaches in England to represent the young girls wanting to play football after the World Cup in 2019. The change we're seeing on the ground (in shirt sales, in ticket sales, at grassroots level) isn't reflected in a drive forwards from the big companies like EA.
FIFA21 haven't taken any strides forwards for women's football despite the record breaking year the women's game has had. They have the same international faces within the game as FIFA20 with rogue squad selections and ratings for players. There's been virtually no changes.
Jodie Taylor last played for England in some friendlies after the World Cup in 2019 and yet in October 2020 the common striking options (Beth Mead, Chloe Kelly, Beth England, Rach Daly, Alessia Russo) either don't feature in FIFA21 or have a rating that simply don't correlate to their current standard (Beth England is not a 75 rating!). They've essentially pulled numbers out of the air with players like Rapinoe (who's admitted she's not the best player in the world) having the top rating of 93.
People are upset that there's no development on club side either, with no plans to introduce FAWSL or NWSL leagues to the EA game. For me, this would be too much of a stride forwards for EA. They need to sort out the very basics first. Maybe they could give major women's players faces on their profiles? It's literally a photograph guys. Maybe ratings that reflect the players current stature? Maybe they could speak to experts in the women's game and ask what position players play in? Maybe include some key international players to the squads (I can't imagine Chloe Kelly is too pleased by her omission for instance).
I'd love to think that EA Sports have watched the release of FIFA21 and seen the outrage of the women's football community and are already starting to make it right for FIFA22 but judging from my years of writing to them with no response, I highly doubt it.
by Helen Hardy