Did you know that 1.5 million more men than women play sport in the UK each week?
Maggie Murphy, a passionate women’s footballer, is keen to change that. And so, in a bid to open up a conversation about women and their visibility in sport, she just climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro to play a football match (and break Guinness World Records in the process).
Murphy, who works for an anti-corruption organisation, has played football all over the globe alongside her job. And, in doing so, she has seen first-hand how the game allows women a chance to overcome language barriers and communicate with one another.
“I’ve always found it really useful to check in with a local football club, it’s a great bonding experience if you don’t speak the same language,” the avid player told us.
“No matter what cultural background you are from, football is a common experience. Everyone is equal on the football pitch.”
It is clear that this sentiment is shared by the other women who joined her on the trip as part of the Equal Playing Field initiative.
In a bid to level out the playing field between men and women in football, the organisation decided to invite Murphy and 29 other women from around the world to play a football match at an altitude of 5,729 metres.
“We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before,” says Murphy. “We wanted to prove that women are capable, or more capable, than men, at doing things, literally at the highest level.
“We wanted to start a conversation about why women are considered to be second class citizens in sport.”
The group, including two times World Cup winner Lori Linsey, England footballer Rachel Unitt and former Mexico Captain Monica Gonzales, were assembled from all over the globe and underwent a rigorous training regime to ensure that they were up to the challenge.
“All of us play football still, and we’re all at different skill levels,” explains Murphy. “We’re from 20 different countries.
“While I tried to do hiking and weights, a couple of the girls brought altitude masks to simulate the pressure. We went under simulation and did a spin class at altitude which was gruelling.”
The players also took part in a world-first study using Catapult GPS tracking technology, which saw the women assessed for a landmark athletes in altitude study.
Then, alongside a team of medics and five FIFA-accredited referees, these badass women embarked upon their seven-day hike to get to the top of the Tanzanian mountain.
“Half of the team got altitude sickness, and we were aware that not everyone makes it to the top, so we had to make sure we were safe,” reveals Murphy.
“We were absolutely exhausted. When it came to setting up the pitch, it had to be according to FIFA regulations otherwise we wouldn’t qualify as record holders. When the pitch came up, we got excited, and a natural competitive edge took over.”
Admittedly, the game threw up a new raft of challenges that make most footballing finals look like child’s play.
“We were out of breath a lot,” laughs Murphy. “We would sprint a few metres and walk back.”
As if the reduced oxygen weren’t trying enough, the conditions of their ‘playing field’ were very different to the norm, too.
“The surface was a mixture of volcanic ash and pebbles and stones,” recalls Murphy. “You’d try to pass a ball and it was really difficult to get it where you wanted it to go.
“It was physically really difficult. But when the final whistle went we all cheered like we’d won a cup final.”
While the group await their official accreditation from Guinness World Records, Murphy says that she hopes that she and her teammates have proven a very important point – that women are every bit as capable as men when it comes to their abilities in sport.
“We’re all strong, thick skinned resilient women,” she says. “It didn’t matter where we were from, we all felt really strongly about the purpose.
“They need opportunity, equality and respect in sport. You don’t need all of the former attributes to take part in sport. Football, and sport as a whole, should be available for everyone.
“We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before. We wanted to prove that women are capable, or more capable, than men, at doing things, literally at the highest level.”
Photos: Equal Playing Field/Maggie Murphy