Women’s Sport Week is an initiative that was created back in 2015 to celebrate all the good in women’s sport and highlight all the bad.
Last week’s mission was to shout about the right of any woman or girl in the UK to take part in, benefit from and succeed in all sport. Throughout last week there were debates, content, events and important discussions on the future of women in sport across the media.
At a time when women’s athletic achievements are building and female sport is going for strength to strength, do we (or more importantly women) need this week? What is it actually hoping to achieve?
It’s true that 2016 has been a very exciting year for the UK’s women in sport. We’ve had some amazing successes, from Laura Trott’s four gold medals at the Olympics, to the women in Team GB at the Paralympics winning nearly twice as many medals as the men, as well as seeing 17 million women across the UK getting up and more active through the amazing ‘This Girl Can’ campaign.
This year has seen a surge of 48% in people watching women’s football, it’s also seen England’s rugby team become World Champions and its cricket team rank second in the world. In the athletic world, UK women are killing it in every corner. But that does not mean that organisations like Women In Sport aren’t still necessary.
While our successes need to be shouted about and the future of female sport looks bright, the numbers show us where we really are. In the last year, only five per cent of national sports coverage was female, with only one per cent of overall sponsorship money going to female athletes. The amount of women sat on the boards of National Governing Bodies supported by Sport England while increasing, is still only between 21 per cent to 30 per cent.
For all the achievements of the last year, the journey towards a level playing field is still a long one and that needs to be tackled both from the top and from the bottom. It remains a fact that girls participation in sports falls away dramatically after school and that a lack of visibility of women’s sport is a major reason for this. A loud positive narrative about female athletes is a crucial need that is not currently being met.
While the female athletes of Rio this summer were inspirational, much of the commentary on them was not. From journalists forgetting and dismissing the Williams sister’s gold medals, to commenting on athletes ‘revealing’ outfits, to former Olympian Adam Kreek commenting that Eugenie Bouchard maybe wants “something different than to be a competitor” after her loss, much of the commentary was ruefully sexist.
“Why is it that female athletes have so few sponsors? Why are they still having to fight for equality in prize money?”
“When I look on her social media” said Kreek, “she’s posting pictures of herself, she’s holding up the toothpaste and she’s trying out different hairstyles.” Bouchard is one of the top players in the world and the first Canadian in history to reach the finals of a Grand Slam in singles. This commentary is a stark example of how women are still seen differently to their male counterparts, even if they are standing on the same platform.
Why is it that women have so few sponsors? Why are female athletes still having to fight for equality in prize money? Why are women constantly marginalised in the mainstream media, with commentary often focusing on body image when they are included? Why do so many women still feel intimidated and excluded by sport? Where are all the female coaches? The female performance directors? How are we still allowing this to happen and how can we change it?
These questions (and many more) are the reason why having a Women In Sport Week is still necessary in the UK, if not essential.
We now know the importance of sport for all areas of life. Being involved with sport not only helps you physically, it also provides you with teamwork skills, self-belief and confidence. It’s not a coincidence that 48 per cent of the leading women in business take part in sports, as opposed to only 40 per cent of the average population.
Sport teaches women and girls to be strong, competitive and skilled in healthy conflict, sport provides us with so many important life lessons that aren’t available to us in a classroom or an office, its crucial.
Media outlets need to commit to improving their commentary on women’s sport, not only on the achievements, but on participation and prospects. Let’s allow the UK’s women to be brought up seeing sport the same way as its men, with the same sense of ownership and the same sense of opportunity.
Throughout last week, women’s sport has been filling columns and sport pages and taking up the time of our most powerful sport executives, but this week and the next it will go back to how it was before.
People and brands need to be braver and more daring when it comes to sponsorship, to be the ones to believe that women’s content, partnership and competition is important and worthy of its own space.
We need the Women in Sport week to be the rule and not the exception. People and brands need to be braver and more daring when it comes to sponsorship, to be the ones to believe that women’s content, partnership and competition is important and worthy of its own space.
Women’s Sport Week reminds us of how incredible women’s sport is, while highlighting that it still needs a lot of support and change to get to where it needs to be. It’s time to turn words into action and starts making changes. Women In Sport Week shows us that it’s possible.