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Nike is coming out with a soccer cleat specifically for women

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Women's World Cup is about a month away, and it will be the largest to date - 32 teams competing, including eight making their World Cup debut. Well, despite the sport's popularity, it is rare to find cleats designed for female athletes. Some shoe companies are trying to change that. And here to talk about those efforts is Sophie Downey. She's a journalist who covers women's soccer and recently wrote about this for The Guardian. Hey there.

SOPHIE DOWNEY: Hello. Great to be on.

KELLY: So this seems like such a total no-brainer that it defies common sense. Have women's soccer cleats really not been designed for women up to now?

DOWNEY: Yeah, it does seem a bit mad, doesn't it?

KELLY: Yeah.

DOWNEY: But it is the case that - until fairly recently, it's always been a men's boot that's been shrunk and made properly beautified.

KELLY: I'm trying to square this with my experience of - like, if you walk into a big sporting goods store and you ask to see women's soccer shoes and then women's soccer shoes, they will show you a whole row. Is what you're saying these are shoes that are branded for women, they're marketed to women, but they're basically men's shoes, just smaller?

DOWNEY: Yes. Essentially, they have been in the past - have been the same cleat, but they're a smaller size, and they've been probably put in different colors.

KELLY: Aha, so nice girly pink - OK, so tell us what's actually changing now.

DOWNEY: So in 2017, a group called Ida Sports, an independent company, decided to try and change things around, and they made the first woman-specific boot. In 2020, they released their first one, and that was fully designed around the shape of a woman's foot, which tends to be a different shape to the men's foot. And also, if you think about the way that the studs go into the turf, the weight of the women's bodies is lighter than a man's body, so they have to be different levels. And then Puma followed in - I think they released their first women's fit boot in 2021.

KELLY: OK.

DOWNEY: So that was probably more advanced than any other major brands had done before in the way that they actually truly shifted the fit of the boot to the women's foot. And then we had last week the release of the Phantom Luna from Nike.

KELLY: And what's different about that one?

DOWNEY: They say it's designed around the female athlete, so while they do sell it in men's sizes, the whole concept is designed around how - what suits a female athlete and her foot, essentially. So they've got a circular stub pattern at the front to help them with the traction in the turf, and there's, like, a bigger touch zone on the pitch because women need bigger touch zones when touching the ball because they've got narrower feet.

KELLY: Is there any harm from women wearing men's shoes just in - generally speaking, in smaller sizes? Like, can this actually be harmful to wear men's shoes if you're a female player at the top of the game?

DOWNEY: It can be. So at best, they cause discomfort. At worst, it can cause proper injury because the way that you move differently in the turf with the boot and the equipment under you. We know that there's a large susceptibility in the women's game for ACL injuries. We've had something like 25% of the Ballon d'Or nominees have been out this year with ACL injuries. Now, the boot isn't the cause of the injury, but they can certainly help if you had the right equipment to stop yourself getting injured.

KELLY: Well, let's talk timing. I mentioned the Women's World Cup is coming right up. It starts in July. What are the chances that players will be able to use some of these new cleats by then?

DOWNEY: The Nike Phantom Luna will be out, and I know a few of the players wear Ida Sports brand as well and on Puma as well. So people are using the boots that are available, but I think it's a bit of a long-term thing in terms of having significant change with the equipment available. It's going to take a bit of research, a lot more investment as well, to get truly to a stage where every single female player and girl can choose a boot that's specific to herself.

KELLY: Well, that was going to be my next question. Here in the states, girls soccer is huge. Are we getting smaller sizes of the women's sizes coming up?

DOWNEY: Well, that would be the hope. You know, for girls sport especially, and attracting girls to play football and to stay in football, it really is ideal that they have the equipment to suit their needs and make them feel comfortable in the sport. At the moment they don't have that.

KELLY: That is journalist Sophie Downey. Thank you so much for joining us.

DOWNEY: Brilliant. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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