Despite the fantastic achievements of our sportswomen, women’s sport remains an afterthought. The lack of coverage has more impact than unbalanced column inches. It impacts on women’s participation and has wider implications for women’s equality. Alongside health benefits, participation in sport helps develop life skills, with sporting activity during youth being linked to confidence and career success later in life.
I’m one of the many young women who gave up on sport in my teens. Having been active in athletics, cricket and basketball (something of a feat, considering my height), as well as enjoying badminton, swimming and hockey, I was quite the sports fan. But, as with many of my peers, my participation slowly dwindled. Girls’ participation in sport drops off from the age of eight, with only 12 per cent doing enough exercise by 14. Preventing this drop-off in participation requires joint efforts from schools, the media and the promotion of our many excellent women role models. It needs to be made clear that sport isn’t just for men – and this means making changes within our sporting institutions to ensure that women are welcome. The media is important in changing the perception and prominence of women’s sport. Women’s sport is hugely under-represented in the media and young women don’t get to see the role models and possibilities for women’s sport. Improved coverage of women’s sport would also lead to more commercial backing for women competitors, giving them opportunities that are at present largely reserved for men. Sport in schools is often not appealing. We need an alternative to grotty communal changing rooms for girls and young women that can put them off PE and sports for life. We also need more choice in the curriculum. Young women should not have to choose between dance and gym while boys do outdoor sports. Dance, gym, rugby and football should be options for all genders. Young women have the ability to excel at any sport and should be encouraged to do so. Our sporting bodies need to change, too. Where a sports body is receiving government money, it should be imperative that they have women on their board and programmes aimed at increasing women’s involvement. A stronger voice for women in sport should go some way towards highlighting and reducing problems for women’s participation. It’s not all bad news. Last week’s Independent on Sunday pledged more coverage of women’s sport and a women’s ‘Tour of Britain’ cycling event has been announced. National sports organisations have been told by the government that their governing bodies should be comprised of at least 25 per cent women by 2017. But in 2013 it shouldn’t be news that a national newspaper has decided to report women’s sporting achievements and we shouldn’t have to wait until 2017 to see sports bodies change. Gender equality in sport seems a long way off, but if we’re not pushing for it we’re not just letting down our sportswomen, we’re failing young women across the country.