Fern Whelan (right) has played for Brighton, Notts County, Liverpool and Everton throughout her long career
Former England international Fern Whelan wants to give women “the confidence to speak out” as part of her new role with the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Whelan is the premier leader in equality, diversity and inclusion in women’s football.
The former Everton, Liverpool, Notts County and Brighton defender retired last year after a 15-year career.
She hopes to address issues related to player welfare and social media abuse.
“I’m a quick learner, there’s a lot to do,” Whelan told BBC Sport. “I’m really passionate about getting women’s football where it needs to be – especially on the gender side.
“I want to make sure the WSL [Women’s Super League] is at the top of his game compared to the men’s team. Everything they get, we should get. This equality is massive. “
“Players should have their vote”
As part of Whelan’s new role, she hopes to speak to players – past and present – to provide a “platform” when they want to speak about concerns within the game.
She says it’s important “to promote cultures where it’s okay to have a voice” and that there is a need for training for players on how to report abuse.
The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the US was made suspended this week after allegations of sexual misconduct came to light – which sparked investigations by US football and Fifa.
“I think not only in the WSL, but in many organizations, people are sometimes afraid to speak up because it could affect them and their position within a club,” said Whelan.
“Sometimes it can be disguised as locker room banter. It’s about explaining what’s right and wrong about the wording, and it’s okay to speak up. It’s more important than ever that players have their voice Hopefully I can give the players the confidence to speak out without it affecting them.
“They realize that their voices are bigger and that it’s not just about them internally – they influence what happens in the future of women’s football and in the culture of every team within the WSL.”
What can WSL clubs do to support players?
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The growth of women’s football and the advent of a new three-year broadcast contract means games are now being shown on mainstream television, but there are concerns about an increase in online and racial abuse.
Whelan says the “pressure” to become more accessible is something that many players “have never had to deal with before”.
“They are not used to being in public like that,” she added. “The mental health and wellbeing side is about training players on how to deal with and how to report any kind of online and stadium abuse.
“It’s really important that they don’t just read it and think, ‘I’m from social media.’ It’s about facing it directly and knowing where to report it so that the right action can be taken.
“On the flip side, it’s about taking care of our players and their well-being, which is enormous. It can be quite worrying if we don’t give them the right tools and access to support.”
Whelan says there should be “a basic standard” in every WSL club for supporting the welfare of players.
She also hopes the players will follow in their footsteps and take on similar roles in the game by the end of their careers.
“Hopefully I can be a role model for the players in that sense. You can see that I’m a black woman who has taken on a leadership role and played football full-time – so it can be done.”
“For the future of women’s football, I hope that women will stay in the game after they are eliminated instead of thinking that there are no chances for them.”