- author, Emma Sanders
- stock, BBC Sport
More than 80 percent of female players at major European soccer clubs suffer from persistent discomfort with their ball boots, a new study shows.
The European Club Association, which represents European clubs, surveyed 350 players from 16 top-flight teams.
The study found that 82 percent of them felt discomfort that could affect their performance, while one in five said they had their shoes customized in an effort to improve comfort.
Football boots on the market today are mostly designed for white men.
New data shows that 34 percent of anonymously surveyed female players report discomfort specifically in their heels.
The majority used custom insoles provided by podiatrists, and some players needed holes in their shoes to avoid constant chafing and blisters.
The European Club Association found that heel discomfort was significantly higher among black players (48%) compared to 32% of white players.
Claire Bloomfield, ECA’s director of women’s football, said: “The numbers were amazing. We knew we were going to find something, but these numbers really shocked us all.”
“It highlights the importance of this work and why it needs to be done now. The ultimate goal is to inspire change in the industry. It highlights an important area where research has been neglected.”
Sports scientists have previously warned against the lack of football kit designed for women, saying the use of boots and balls designed for male players could increase their risk of injury.
The study indicated that strained Achilles tendons and metatarsal stress fractures were associated with ill-fitting shoes.
Two in five female players have told the European Club Association (ECA) that they do not feel the current football boot market offers good injury protection.
The research also explored differences between female and male feet, including width, arch height, metatarsal length, metatarsal joint angle, and ankle circumference in relation to foot length.
Dr Kathryn Krieger, a sports rehabilitation lecturer at St Mary’s University, supported UEFA in its study: “It’s about the feet, it highlights that the shape of a football boot is not suitable for women, and it’s not. A small problem.”
“The biggest problem area overall is the heel of the foot, which causes discomfort and pain. When we look at it from a racial perspective, 48 percent of black female players have heel discomfort.”
“It highlights that one design doesn’t fit all, and race plays a role in that.”
The research, funded by the European Club Association, is part of its commitment to gaining more knowledge about football equipment and clothing that improves safety, performance and comfort for female players.
The data collected over an 18-month period included details on the position of the buttons on football boots and how they might affect the movement of players’ feet.
Concern has recently increased over the number of major players suffering from anterior cruciate ligament injuries of the knee, which studies show are more common among women than men.
Asked if there was a direct link between ill-fitting shoes and injuries, Dr Krieger said: “We don’t have that data yet. We don’t have anything to compare it to.”
“One thing we say is we shouldn’t copy what men do. Just because men don’t think about a certain science doesn’t mean women can’t do it for soccer.”
The first phase of the study has yet to be peer-reviewed and published, but the aim is now to make it freely available to all football boot brands to revolutionize women’s design.
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