Football's Pioneers: Alice Milliat
Milliat, who was born in Nantes, France in 1884, was a pioneer of women’s sport. Born Alice Million, she trained as a teacher, before moving to England and marrying Joseph Milliat. In England, she discovered her favourite sport: rowing.
Following her husband’s untimely death in 1908, Milliat travelled throughout Europe and the United States before returning to France on the outbreak the First World War. In 1915, she took over the presidency of Fémina Sport, the oldest female multi-sport club, based in Paris.
She would later set up the Federation des Sociétés de France, the French Federation of Women’s Clubs, becoming its president in March 1919. The federation was set up with the aim of promoting sports which were seen as ‘unsuitable’ for women including football, athletics and rowing.
In 1920, Alice accepted an invitation to bring a French women’s football team to England to play four games against Dick, Kerr’s Ladies. The games were described as ‘international’ matches and were for some time called the first women’s international matches played, although this has since been disproved.
Milliat argued: “In my opinion, football is not wrong for women. Most of these girls are beautiful Grecian dancers. I do not think it is unwomanly to play football as they do not play like men, they play fast, but not vigorous, football.”
Her team would lose three of the games to Dick, Kerr’s Ladies and draw one – but her determination to establish professional French women’s football cannot be forgotten.
It is, however, her fight for equality in the Olympic games for which she will be remembered most. In 1919, Milliat made a request that women be included in the Olympic track and field programme.
The request was refused, so Milliat set up the Women’s Games. Held in 1921 in Monaco, the competition was renamed the Women’s Olympics in 1922 and later became the Women’s World Games, which were staged in 1926, 1930 and 1934.
The Olympic committee began to include women’s events in the programme from 1928, and over the coming years, female inclusion continued to grow.
Milliat died aged 73 in May 1957. Among her many achievements in her fight for equality in women’s sports, her pioneering work in women’s football was an early steppingstone which helped lead, many years later, to the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991.
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