Skip to content

“Society wants to divide us but the key is through diversity”

Laure Boulleau is the godmother of the SENSATIONNELLES program, which aims to promote women’s amateur football and support the emancipation of young girls through sport. For Paris Match, the former PSG player and French international talks about the development of the discipline, with hindsight and optimism.

Paris Match. Last March, you became the godmother of the SENSATIONNELLES program, initiated by Intermarché and supported by the French Football Federation. Can you tell us what this project is about?
Laura Boulleau. I was asked a few months ago for this program which supports amateur football clubs that are committed to women’s football. It aims to challenge them, each presenting a project in line with the development of the discipline. The idea was to show what they do on a daily basis. Of all these clubs involved, a selection has been made to participate in the final on June 27th. I found the idea hot because I love this side of amateur football. I am Auvergne, I come from the countryside, that was the beginning of my story. Women’s football has developed very well but accessibility to all is not yet at its maximum. The French team, PSG, OL is good, but we also have to develop the masses, the little girls who play football. And it is with ideas a bit like this, with challenges, prizes to be won, that we will get there. There were a lot of participants, it was hard to choose, but just being able to meet these clubs is important, it’s not just about the winner.

The Women’s World Cup in France in 2019 raised a lot of hope for the development of women’s football. However, the craze seems to have died down fairly quickly. How do you explain that ?
We had a fantastic World Cup in 2019 but we didn’t know how to surf on it, in any case not up to what we hoped for. The first reason is that we had a two-speed development. There is the elite, which advances in all countries. Thanks to her, we experienced a World Cup with a lot of enthusiasm, which had a very good level, very beautiful stadiums, beautiful lawns. Everything was in place to make it a great sporting and media event. He drew crowds to stadiums. But when we then go back to the daily life of the championship, where not all the clubs are professional… when we go from the Parc des Princes filled with international players to more confidential stadiums, things get complicated. There was too big a gap between the World Cup and what the women’s D1 can offer. But that’s normal, it’s going to take time, there are constraints and the course is far from over. The second reason is also covid-19, which has plagued women’s football, the economy of which is not at all autonomous. We depend on men’s football to a large extent, when it’s hard on the boys’ finances we hit the budget and that immediately impacts what doesn’t bring in money. But I hope that in the years to come we will be able to bounce back.

What’s next after this ad

You meet a lot of young girls on the pitch, do they sometimes talk to you about personal difficulties in the face of the lack of development of women’s football?
It depends. I meet young girls who have sometimes had super easy access to football, where they can play with girls or even boys. But it’s true that in some more remote areas, it’s more complicated for them to organize and exist. That said, we are far from being the least developed country in terms of infrastructure, I am proud to be in France.

What’s next after this ad

“I prefer to have already succeeded in changing mentalities before having been able to develop the structure”

Compared to your beginnings, mentalities have changed a lot, how do you perceive this change?
We can do better in the development of women’s football, in prejudices, received ideas, but I feel less and less reluctance among men. For me, this is a false debate today. In the past, we have been too demanding and impatient with this point in particular, when it does not change with the snap of a finger. We have already succeeded in 10 years in completely changing mentalities. I hear many friends today who say that their daughters play football. I never heard that when I was little. I felt like an exception. The ratio of men to women’s football has changed. To be completely honest, I even prefer to have already succeeded in changing mentalities before having been able to develop the structure. For me the priority was to change the way of seeing this sport which is neither masculine nor feminine. When I see the speed at which things change, we went 100 times faster than the boys during their own development. The elite, in just 15 years, has changed so much.

In this SENSATIONAL program, the accent is also placed on the emancipation of young girls. How does this translate?
In this kind of campaign, there are multiple objectives, here, there is football, but there is also the development of the practice of sport in general. The generations have changed, today they are a lot on their phones on the Internet, they are less used to naturally wanting to go into sport. While it is a question of health and society. I think it’s important to encourage the practice of sport and all the more so among women, because they can realize that after having been active they feel better, they have more self-confidence, the benefits are huge. And in a period like adolescence, it is even more important. These are the little things that not all girls have access to, that you have to push on a daily basis.

What’s next after this ad

What’s next after this ad

You were talking about covid-19 which had an impact on the women’s football budget. It has also had an impact on mental health, particularly among young people. Is this also an aspect that should be emphasized in the development of the discipline?
Of course, and this even goes beyond amateur football. In the elite, on this point we are very late. In my opinion, psychological suffering is truly linked to playing at a high level, even if amateur football must of course also have this kind of example. But everything related to stress, image, responsibilities from a very young age, pressure from coaches… These are aspects that we must over-develop, and all the more so these days. Today we are not at all protected, we are judged on our slightest deeds and gestures, when we are an athlete we are judged on our slightest performances, a bit askew will be seen. It is absolutely necessary to increase mental preparation in clubs, in all high-level sports. We’re a little behind because we thought it was almost a gurus thing, we focused on the physical side, because what counts is going fast. But when the head is not there, the players as gifted as they are only the shadow of themselves.

Have you experienced this kind of difficulties during your career?
I experienced that, rather towards the end. I’m part of the generation that saw the progression of social networks, but they didn’t really exist when I started. I learned to live with it, and the dosage was pretty decent. I quickly realized that I shouldn’t read the comments. But when I got injured towards the end of my career, I felt like I had a triple pressure on me. There was pressure to get back to my level, pressure from the coach – “if you’re still injured, it’s in your head” – and popular pressure – “she’s not going to come back, she’s finished”. All these aspects push us to be vigilant, hence the importance of a good entourage. Education for me is an indispensable basis.

“It’s important to have idols and inspire younger generations”

When you started, you didn’t have a female role model to inspire you. Today, you have become one for many little and young girls…
I’m very proud of it! It’s important to have idols and inspire younger generations. It often happens to me to have girls who tell me that they followed me when I played and that it made them want to play football. It makes me happy, because having such role models is what makes it possible to develop vocations and therefore develop the masses in football. That said, I had male idols and that didn’t stop me from having this ambition and this desire to succeed!

Today there are many players, in France and abroad – in the United States in particular – who have become true icons beyond football. It’s a new status that should, perhaps, also make young girls want to get into sport.
Today, with social networks, we see this ambition to become famous at all costs. And I prefer that one becomes famous through sport rather than reality TV! But be careful, I didn’t play to be on TV because when I started we weren’t on TV (laughs). I played because I loved football too much.

Is this the message you pass on to young girls when you meet them?
Yes ! The basic of basics is to play a sport, play a game, and have fun. I tell them that you always have to have fun and never lose that. The most important thing for girls is to emancipate themselves. I often ask them if they play against the boys, if they beat them, jokingly, and it makes them laugh. And then, if football for them becomes more serious, then I tell them to work a lot because there is no secret. You have to be determined to have very high-level careers, you have goals in mind and despite the pitfalls you have to go deep within yourself to achieve them.

What do you think is the major element in the development of women’s football?
For me, the key is diversity. The more normal it will seem to see girls playing football, the less we will see differences between women’s and men’s football. When I speak in everyday life, I always say “she plays football”, not “women’s football”. Society often tries to divide us, it is like that nowadays. But change also involves people. I met some great men who were at the start of the development of women’s football when it wasn’t worth much. And it is also by seeing male models taking an interest in the discipline that it will change. There will be the Euro in July, I think Kylian Mbappé, for example, will send a message for the girls. He has already come to see women’s PSG matches. These are strong messages for the general public. And then we won’t even notice it. Already, I can say that things have changed. People no longer ask me the unbearable question: if you played with men, what level would you be in?

The media also have a role to play. Are they doing enough?
If I compare with other women’s sports, football is the least badly off. There are sports where they are Olympic champions and European champions and they struggle to be broadcast. We, the D1 championship is broadcast on Canal+. The matches of the France team are broadcast all the time, we have good and powerful social networks. I think the job is done, even if we can always do better. But in the end, isn’t it better to wait for the D1 to rise further in level before broadcasting it on larger scale channels. What’s the point of going too fast, if in terms of entertainment and popularity, he’s not yet mature enough? You have to find the right balance. For the moment, what can be done better in the media… The Euro will be broadcast in July on Canal and unencrypted on TF1. On the other hand, it is especially at the level of the activation of the sponsors that we can progress. But what Intermarché is doing here, by taking the opposite view and choosing to engage more with girls than boys, is clever. People want to know the stories, the faces. There are things to tell in women’s football.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.