Over the past decade, the enthusiasm for women’s sport —and especially women’s football (soccer if you’re in the U.S.) — has become unstoppable. But a world with such fandom for female athletics was unthinkable when Lucy Mills, a young girl from Yorkshire in the north of England, grew obsessed with football in the early 1990s.
Today, Mills finds herself once again on the cutting edge. She is the founder of Ready Sport Global, an advisory firm that focuses on teaching professional athletes and sports organizations how to use Web3 technologies to develop social-impact businesses.
Being a trailblazer came naturally to Mills, who remembers kicking a ball around or watching Leeds United FC with her dad on the weekend. But it wasn’t always encouraged: She recalls being told she wasn't allowed to play on her school’s primary football team because it was a boys’ team.
“From a very early age, without knowing or using this language, I was a sports feminist or a sports activist, because of the barriers that I faced personally growing up, and not really being able to play properly,” said Mills.
That was the beginning of a journey that would one day unite Mills’ football passion with tech to score a win for women's sport development.
Today, the broader picture is starting to look a little bit more encouraging for women and girls around the world. Just recently, for instance, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup celebrated between Australia and New Zealand shattered records, with almost 2 million fans attending. We’re talking 600,000 more than the previous record in 2019. Additionally, an audience of 21 million viewers tuned into Britain’s BBC broadcast for the final match between England and Spain. To put these numbers in context, the men's Wimbledon final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic a month earlier had an audience of 11.3 million — and only the Coronation of King Charles III in May had a larger audience than the FIFA Women’s World Cup final.
However, such advancements have only been possible thanks to the work and effort of many women who, like Mills, experienced unfairness throughout their life. As Mills recalls, girls not being allowed in boys’ teams was the norm in her experience and around the world. In England alone, women were banned from playing football for 50 years. So when she turned 18, not knowing exactly what she wanted to do or study, Mills took a year off and went to Ghana as a volunteer football coach. Lo and behold, she saw similar patterns of gender-based discrimination. Soon the experience became a pivotal time in her life that formed the rest of her career working and supporting the football-for-good movement.
Mills' experience in Ghana opened her eyes to the way football impacts societies and cultures, making it an incredibly powerful and significant sport for many people around the world.
This inspired her to study international development and international relations on her return to the U.K. Shortly after completing her B.A. with First Class Honour — the highest grade you can achieve on an undergraduate degree in the U.K. — Mills returned to Africa, this time to Cape Town, where she pursued a Master of Philosophy degree. Soon after, she found her first job that combined her two greatest interests: sports and social development.
Mills started working for a women’s and girls’ football program where, as a coach educator, she identified and mentored women coaches to create and deliver programs for girls. This not only provided women and girls with the opportunity to play football, but also incorporated social elements and life skills. As Mills noted, football is a really powerful source of inspiration and educational tool, especially for girls and women, but only when the program is designed well. This means that you can't just drop a football onto a playground and expect positive things to happen, Mills explained.
“Inequalities and dynamics in society get played out in the football field, so we have to be intentional about how we design programs to make sure they are appealing, safe, supportive, and adequate for girls,” said Mills. From recognizing the fact that girls may not have played before, to having a female coach with certain characteristics, or even that the programs are set at times of the day when girls can attend.
In 2010, still living in Cape Town, Mills moved on to work at the FIFA Men's World Cup in South Africa as a program manager. There, she continued to merge the power of football with social impact. Her role included managing FIFA’s social legacy program, working with FIFA’s corporate partners and social responsibility initiatives, managing funding and programs, and working with NGOs, associations and clubs that were using football to promote different social objectives, such as gender equality, health and education.
It was in 2017 that Mills first learned about crypto through a couple of teammates. They introduced her to what Mills describes as an entirely new world that she had no idea existed. This novelty captured her attention.
By this time, Mills had moved back to Europe and started working in Denmark as the Head of Women's Football at a professional football group and, with the guidance of a patient friend, she embarked on a learning journey to understand crypto. She first bought some cryptocurrencies like BTC and ETH. And, soon enough, she became a regular at meetups and events, delving into various aspects of Web3. This path led her to begin imagining how blockchain technology can address pressing societal issues, particularly for women’s sport.
Despite the ongoing developments and momentum in women's sports, the reality persists that women's sports leagues are often treated as an afterthought and secondary to men's sport, remaining consistently underinvested and undervalued. Power and influence have been in the wrong hands among people who don't have women's sports interests front and center of decisions, argues Mills.
“Women's sport has faced all of these different challenges of gatekeeping from institutions that were created by men and for men's sport," she said. "And so, as a woman, you've always had to navigate these institutions or even the laws that prohibited women from playing sport over the decades."
This problem also extends to media coverage: “Significantly, too, media outlets wouldn't give the platform, the space, and the time to women’s sport, so fans turned to digital and social media," Mills commented.
Social media and the trend toward more niched-down promotional channels has helped make women's sport agile — very open to new ideas and change. Innovation and community are in the DNA of women's sport, believes Mills. She is convinced of the parallels between Web3's efforts and those of women’s sport.
“Web3 has a focus on financial and social inclusion of otherwise excluded groups. For me, it is very applicable to women's sport,” Mills noted.
Just a year after delving into the world of crypto, Mills relocated to Barcelona, Spain, drawn by an opportunity to work for FC Barcelona. She dedicated several years to the foundation department of the iconic club, managing international relations and overseeing the club's sport and social programs. She utilized her skills and experience in sport-based methodologies to promote and engage children and young people in sports and physical activities, and programs that fostered social, educational, health and wellbeing. During the last couple of years, Mills also observed the emergence of early Web3 activity in sport, including NFT drops and discussions about the Metaverse within the club.
“I started to study this intersection of Web3 and sports more," she said. "Of course, I came to realize that there was a big focus on men's professional sport and there were really no women in this niche intersection."
Sports Tech — the intersection of sports and technology — is male-dominated, and so is the current focus of Web3 sports initiatives. The events and meetups Mills began attending felt to her like stepping back in time 10 or 15 years, and she even described feeling like one of the few women in a room of 400 guys. Determined to make a change, she wrote a course condensing everything that she’d been learning in the past years and targeted it for people working specifically in women's sports leagues and organizations, with a particular focus on women in the sports industry.
With the help of a couple of friends and on a budget, Mills recorded the course videos in her apartment. The group then made it available for free and sent it around all of their contacts across different sports, women's sports organizations, non-profit organizations and collectives. This initiative garnered substantial interest, support and acclaim within the industry. This momentum prompted her to depart her position at FC Barcelona in 2022 and fully embrace entrepreneurship.
“We've been creating these environments where we demystify the jargon, we make it fun and social and we bring people together,” Mills remarked of her new entrepreneurial endeavors. “People from the Web3 space together with people from women's sport to make that crossover between the two worlds.”
After leaving FC Barcelona, Mills founded Ready Sport Global, a tech advisory firm that empowers athletes and organizations to reimagine fan engagement, create new revenue streams, build immersive virtual experiences and optimize performance through Web3 technologies. Her commitment to get women's sport and women in the sport industry ready for the Web3 era led her to establish her company as a Web3 and women's sport hub which runs educational experiences in the form of courses, trainings, and events in collaboration with well-known sport and tech organizations such as Manchester United, the Japanese Football Association, the International Olympic Committee, Tezos, TriliTech and Algorand, among others.
“We're at a watershed moment for women's sport," said Leanne Bats, a founding advisor at Ready Sport Global who heads up Web3 strategy for the firm. "The path we're laying now is crucial — a path formed by women to unleash creative opportunities for both commercial and social impact."
According to Bats, Ready Sport Global is "only just getting started."
"The future is brimming with possibilities," she said.
Mills wants to take blockchain innovation in women’s sport much further. She is currently in the initial stages of considering how to collaborate with feminist funds, women leaders and organizations worldwide to pilot a more effective approach to channeling resources and funding to where they're most needed through blockchain. She aspires to utilize blockchain to support of hyper-local women-led initiatives — whether individual or group endeavors — in countries where women and girls are excluded from sport.
She’s on a mission to eradicate inequalities in sports and ensure that no girl is hindered from pursuing her greatest passion.
This is not financial advice. If you don't want to spend money investing in crypto or Web3 — you don’t have to. The intent of this article is to help others educate themselves and learn.
Sabrina Bonini is a seasoned Web3 writer, educator, and speaker dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses in the Web3 space through effective content creation. With a mission to assist companies in crafting impactful writing content, she plays a pivotal role in helping the fast-evolving Web3 landscape communicate its message and drive adoption. Sabrina pays special attention to the education and empowerment of Spanish-speaking artists, women, and underrepresented groups, and is fully committed to helping make the blockchain ecosystem more diverse and inclusive.