The video seemed innocuous enough: Prince William and his daughter, Princess Charlotte, wishing England’s women’s soccer team—known as the Lionesses—good luck on Saturday ahead of their FIFA Women’s World Cup final against Spain today. “Lionesses, want to wish you a huge good luck for tomorrow,” William said as he sat next to Charlotte outdoors on a bench. “We’re sorry we can’t be there in person. But we’re so proud of everything you’ve achieved and the millions you’ve inspired here and around the world. So go out there tomorrow and really enjoy yourselves.” Charlotte, holding a soccer ball in her lap, added “Good luck, Lionesses!”
This wasn’t the first time father and daughter have sent a video message of support to the team—last year, the two recorded a message for the women’s team as they prepared to play Germany in their finals match. But this year, William’s apologetic line “We’re sorry we can’t be there in person” stung, with many calling his decision to stay home a huge blunder, especially as Queen Letizia of Spain traveled to Sydney, Australia to take in the match alongside her daughter, Princess Sofia. Per the BBC, it was both England and Spain’s first time playing in the women’s World Cup final; Spain ultimately emerged victorious, winning 1-0 earlier today.
William—who is getting the bulk of criticism because he serves as the president of the Football Association—is currently on a break from royal duties, spending time with his family before his three children return to school in early September. The BBC reported that William opted to not fly Down Under “to avoid making long-distance flights for a very short stay in Australia,” keeping in line with his passion for sustainability. William is an outspoken fan of the team and has visited the team in training, and, an avid soccer fan in general, often wishes the Lionesses messages of support on social media; King Charles, too, spoke out about the team, writing “My wife and I join all our family in sending the mighty Lionesses our warmest congratulations on reaching the final of the World Cup, and in sharing our very best wishes for Sunday’s match.”
But that message—as well as the video message of William and Charlotte—did little to dull the cries of sexism amongst some, who called out that this was England’s first trip to the World Cup final and sharply comparing his absence to Letizia’s presence. “Despite the 22-hour flight from London to Sydney, some feel Prince William or another member of the royal family should attend the match,” People reports. “After all, if the Lionesses clinch victory, it will be the nation’s first World Cup win for the women’s squad.” (Even without a win, The Independent reports, it still marked the first time since 1966 that any England soccer team had reached a World Cup final. For context, in 1966, the late Queen Elizabeth attended the World Cup final—that said, it was at Wembley—and presented captain Bobby Moore with the trophy.)
“The gender gap for sport begins at a young age and underpins ideas that everyone should take an interest in men’s sport while women’s sport is for girls,” journalist Poorna Bell said, noting that only Charlotte appeared alongside William in the video of support, and not his other two children, sons Prince George and Prince Louis. “Bad enough he didn’t go to watch the match, let alone only posing with his daughter—what message does that send to his boys?”
Good Morning Britain co-anchor Adil Ray called the absence of the royal family at the match a “huge error in judgement”: “Nobody in attendance at one of the biggest sporting moments in the history of the United Kingdom,” he wrote. “Nothing bigger. Their absence without any official explanation is bizarre.” But broadcaster Dan Walker, per The Independent, defended William’s decision from a sustainability standpoint, writing “Not sure why some people are getting so angry about Prince William not going to the game. We all know he’d get hammered for the cost & climate impact of flying all the way to Australia for one football match. Come on England.”
Former England goalkeeper Pauline Cope called the decision a “shame,” adding “I will not have any bad words against the royal family. However, this should have been penciled in his diary from day dot, after we won the Euros and qualified for the World Cup.” Cope added her disappointment in the absence of U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Gareth Southgate, who is the coach of England’s men’s soccer team, who also didn’t make the trip to Sydney: “Let’s be honest,” Cope told Times Radio. “If it was the men’s World Cup, they would all be here.”
King Charles is also King of Australia—as of 2023, there are 15 Commonwealth realms that also consider Charles as monarch and head of state, including Australia. Many considered William’s absence a missed opportunity to firm up relations with Australia, but, per The Sun, William might not be Down Under because it’s not constitutionally possible: Since Charles has not yet visited Australia since becoming King, that would mean William cannot constitutionally visit before him. “Questions have been raised about the diplomatic implications of William visiting the country before his father had had chance as the new monarch, and also whether Australia would have been responsible for footing the bill for William’s security costs during his stay,” The Mirror reports.
Last October, William had not planned to attend the men’s World Cup, hosted rather controversially by Qatar; yet, The Mirror reports, “before Southgate’s squad was knocked out in the quarter-final, it was understood his [William’s] office was looking at making possible arrangements for him to attend if the men reached the final.”
After the Lionesses lost today, William—who is presumed to have watched the match on television—wrote “Although it’s the result none of us wanted, @Lionesses you have done yourselves and this nation proud. Your spirit & drive have inspired so many people and paved the way for generations to come. Thank you for the footballing memories.”
And, though a Palace source said on Saturday that “both Their Majesties [Charles and Camilla] will be following Sunday’s events with the greatest interest,” The Daily Express reports the King and Queen arrived at church near Balmoral, Scotland, shortly before the start of the 11:30 a.m. service and “left around an hour later, meaning they appeared to have missed the bulk of the game,” which began at 11 a.m. U.K. time, with the final whistle blowing just after 1 p.m. If you can't be on the ground in Australia or watching the match on television from home, church is as good as anyplace to be, one supposes.
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Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.
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