This week is Women in Sport week.
The mission of Women in Sport is to “champion the right of every woman and girl in the UK to take part in, and benefit from, sport: from the field of play to the boardroom, from early years and throughout her life.”
Women in Sport promotes its message in the following ways:
- by encouraging the increased participation in sport by women and girls;
- by supporting those women seeking to work or volunteer in the sports sector; and
- by increasing the visibility of women in sport by making them a central part of the sporting landscape.
Women in Sport is also a strong supporter and backer of Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan social media campaign from earlier this year which was hailed as a great success in increasing participation in sport across all age groups throughout the country.
Looking at recent results the success of British Women in sport is plain to see.
The Rio Olympics and Paralympics in particular were a brilliant showcase with Team GB securing a number of Gold medals with standout performances from Laura Trott, Dame Sarah Storey, Nicola Adams, Charlotte Dujardin and the GB hockey team to name but a few.
Women’s football has also seen a surge of interest with crowds up 48% over the course of 2015’s thrilling Super League which saw Chelsea crowned champions on the last day of the season. 32,912 fans also packed in to Wembley to watch Arsenal Ladies defeat Chelsea in the FA Cup final. This success was no doubt due in part to England’s Lionesses securing third place in the 2015 Women’s FIFA World Cup held in Canada.
Elsewhere in Women’s sport England’s rugby team are the current World Champions and the English cricket team are ranked second in the World.
Why then, in light of these obvious successes, is there a need for an organisation such as Women in Sport at all in 2016?
The simple fact remains that sport is dominated by men, especially in the board room, and that female participation falls away after school.
Women in Sport’s 2015 survey “Trophy Women?” collected data concerning the gender makeup of the boards and executive teams of all National Governing Bodies that are funded by Sport England. When compared with results of similar data collected by Women in Sport in 2009 they show a pleasing increase in the proportion of women in such roles from 21% to 40%. Though these results are of course to be applauded the report concludes that there remains “a lack of a sustainable pipeline of female leaders rising to the top”.
As for participation, one reason for the low take up after school can perhaps be highlighted by recent allegations made by West Ham United Ladies FC as to the discrimination it claims to have suffered at the hands of its affiliated Premiership men’s side West Ham United FC.
West Ham, whose vice-chairman is Baroness Karen Brady (some would say one of the most influential women in the men’s game), denies any form of discrimination and has confirmed its desire to take back the running of the ladies team in due course.
Another issue revolves around the way female sports stars are described by the media. Athletes are often evaluated more on how they look rather than on their performance, a trap famously fallen into by John Inverdale. This results in girls who are keen on sport at an early age being discouraged as they get older and/or when they become muscular as they believe they will become/be seen as unattractive. This in turn means that young girls are left with few role models as a result of which you have less women participating in sport.
Finally, there can be a problem with attracting and maintaining large commercial investment in and/or obtaining more TV exposure for women’s sport. This may be because there is a much lower percentage of the female population watching female sport when compared to the percentage of the male population watching male sport, or indeed female sport, on a regular basis. As a result, sport is often seen as a less viable career path for women than to that of their male contemporaries.
In the circumstances as long as there is discrimination, or even the perception of discrimination, as a result of being a woman it is vitally important that there exists bodies that will fight for, support and promote their rights. Only then will women, especially girls, feel truly comfortable pursuing their ambition in the world of sport.
As the father of two young girls who enjoy nothing more than kicking a football or doing a Park Run I am only too happy to commend the work of Women in Sport.