Arsenal's Leah Williamson On Empowering Women's Sport and Giving Back to North London
“Society has changed and women’s sport has reaped the benefits from it.”
Shortly after Stella McCartney partnered with adidas to design a range of products for the Arsenal Women’s Football Club, Arsenal announced the launch of an all-new home kit. Celebrating the release, the club has set up an initiative to give back to its local community. Giving a little back to North London, the club’s new initiative means that £5 GBP (approximately $6.50 USD) from every shirt sold will go back to The Arsenal Foundation to support local community projects.
Leah Williamson is a defender from Arsenal’s women’s team and the captain of the England women’s squad. She believes that “We all have to understand our role in giving back and this is a small way that the club can do it.”
Ahead of the new, home kit launch, we spoke to the footballer about her experience as a woman in sport and what she hopes to achieve in giving back to the local community.
Who or what inspired you to become an athlete?
My family are very sporty people and then when I was younger, I had a love for Thierry Henry at Arsenal and Kelly Smith so that was kind of the dream.
Can you talk about your experience as a woman in sports? Is it what you expected?
I think women’s sportspeople have had to overcome a lot more most of the time and those are the stories that bring you in [when you're younger]. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that’s probably our greatest strength, in terms of coming through adversity to reach where we want to go and having influence on people. I was lucky, I think I still had role models, Jessica Ennis Hill and people like that. They’ve got to the top of their game and they are just unbelievable athletes. Now knowing that that’s my responsibility, I’m just trying to give back as much as possible.
Based on your personal experiences, do you think the dynamic of women’s sports has changed over the last decade? If so, how?
Yeah, I think society has changed and women’s sport has reaped the benefits from it. Women’s sport pushes those social norms as well and it’s this thing of ‘we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.’ People are opposed to us, which is baffling to me and I think if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch every sport, you don’t have to watch every version of every sport. But if somebody’s in a role where they want to succeed, there will be people out there that want to watch it and I think that’s the main difference. Now it’s normal for us to be where we are and people watch it.
The give-back program is giving £5 GBP from every shirt sold to the community. How do you think the program will affect future athletes?
I think everybody needs to understand their role. Like I said, we play football because people are interested in watching sport. It’s the same with every sport, we only have those things in place because people want to watch it so [it's important to] give back to the people that support and want to watch. With Arsenal, we’ve been a classy club and act with class, it’s a core value of the club and that’s what makes me proud. We all have to understand our role in giving back and this is a small way that the club can do it. Hopefully it’ll inspire more athletes to think ‘where’s that money going and what can I do individually to help as well?’
Finally, what is an aspect of the local Islington community that you love and fans should know about?
Arsenal is just embedded in the community, you’ve got Highbury and the old stadium still there, just in a different form now. With the new stadium, that walk and the high-street, if you weren’t from London and you stepped in, you’d know exactly where you were and I think that’s the beauty of it. Islington, North London is just a magical place and I think Arsenal is core to it.
The new Arsenal home kit will be released on May 19 with £5 from every shirt sold going to the Arsenal Foundation to support local community projects. For more information, check out the Arsenal website.