HOTH has always championed equality of opportunity in sport, and wherever possible, we've done everything we can to make our events accessible and inclusive to all. We've never entertained any form of gender bias, and we've supported everyone in their running goals. Reflecting this approach is our history of events often being on average 50% subscribed by female participants, and the course record for the longest distance recorded at HOTH, during the rare HOTH 36 Hour special in 2019, being held by a female athlete, Lizzie Nairn, who completed an incredible 136 miles!
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for many other sports, and women and girls often experience significant, and often unpleasant, challenges when they try to get involved, and we don't think that's OK.
One of the sports with the most obstacles and challenges is, to the great surprise of many, football. The world's sport, the sport of the masses, the sport that's known to be open to all, regardless of their social class, wealth, or the colour of their skin. The sport that welcomes everyone, except girls, or so it would seem... We've had many talented female footballers involved with HOTH in one way or another over the years, and all have told of the challenges they experienced when trying to enjoy their sport, most of which revolved around being told that girls don't play football! There weren't many female teams, and they certainly weren't welcomed by many of the coaches or players on boys teams. They weren't allowed to play football at school, and unless their ship sailed under a lucky star and they got a scholarship to an American university, they weren't ever going to play professional football.
Then things changed. Girls teams became more popular, the Women's Super League was set up and became fully professional, and the country's big footballing names, including Man United, City, Arsenal, and Chelsea started giving professional contracts with good terms. Academies grew, and women's football became a genuine prospect! Not bad considering the FA actually banned women from playing football for a full fifty years until the early 70s! All of this culminating in the Lionesses (England's women's national team) winning the European Championships in 2022, in front of a sold out Wembley Stadium, and watched by tens of millions on TV.
Unfortunately, as much as things change, they can sometimes stay the same. Outside of the WSL and big international competitions, the challenges still exist. Girls are still told they can't, or shouldn't play football, they don't get support, and they certainly don't get the sponsorship they need to help them progress in their sport (a half decent pair of boots costs £80+ these days!) There are more girl's teams around, and a lot of people are working hard to change the narrative, but in footballing terms, women are still second class citizens in the eyes of many.
THE HOTH UNITED PROJECT
This is where HOTH UNITED comes in. Following the success of the Lionesses in 2022, we wanted to do something to keep the story going, and pledged to sponsor a female footballer each year to support them in their dreams of playing football. No expectations, no contracts, it was just about doing the right thing, and hopefully setting a precedent that others will follow. If we find a way to support girls in playing, even if it's just covering the cost of a pair of boots, we start to change the narrative. Girls get sponsors, girls can play, girls have equality of opportunity, and ultimately, more girls will make it to the academies, into WSL teams, and into the England squad. It's a small step, but one we're proud to commit to!
HOTH UNITED isn't an actual team that plays in a league (at least not yet), it's a community of players and supporters who have been brought together by the project, and a way of us recognising those we support, and those who help us in our mission.