We were delighted to receive an invitation to attend the ninth All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting on Women and Sport yesterday at the House of Lords.
With the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the group, co-chaired by Baroness Grey-Thompson and Barbara Keeley MP, met to debate the role of international events for women in sport and how this can contribute to increasing participation in sport at a local level.
What was pleasing for Sport Watch was the flavour the discussion took, with a strong focus on the importance of role models, media coverage, and sponsorship (all inter-linked, of course).
Sarah Winckless, 2004 bronze medal winner in rowing who is now Chair of the British Olympic Association (BOA) Athlete Commission, said –
“What you see is what you want to be”
And this motto is a large reason that Bristol Fawcett started the Sport Watch website in the first place. It has always been our aim to promote women in sport, including profiling local sporting figures. The importance of local role models was highlighted a number of times at the APPG – and not just athletes as role models. The importance of highlighting other careers in sport for women, including journalism and coaching, was also encouraged.
I spoke on the involvement we’ve had with Wesport’s launch of the Bristol Women’s Coaching Network to raise the profile of female coaches locally. And I even tried to convert a few more people to the growth mindset (i.e. we can all be “sporty”). Yes, I am still a huge fan of the growth mindset.
Another area that we, like many others, are concerned about is the lack of sponsorship for women in sport – still sitting at 0.4% of all sponsorship according to research conducted by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF). So it was exciting to hear from Sally Hancock, Head of Glasgow 2014 SSE plc, that 55% of their sponsorship money has been ear-marked for women.
An increase in coverage may be assisting with sponsorship. Shelley Alexander, Editorial Lead on Women’s Sport at the BBC, said that 20% of all their live sport coverage across all streams is devoted to women. It’s not parity but it sure beats the “all media” figure of just 7% of sports coverage going to women.
However, the best way to ensure sponsorship, according to a number of the APPG attendees, is to improve performance. Pamela Cookey, the very inspiring and also charming England Netball Captain, pointed out that when the team really began winning is when companies really started supporting them. Pamela said – and this was often repeated during the discussion – “Success breeds success”. The team is currently ranked third in the world.
Overall, it was an inspirational debate. The only slight hesitation was with regards to attendance by Cosmo Body who seemed to be making all the right noises about promoting women in sport and reaching out to a large audience of readership. However, a quick Google search shows that their headlines are around diet and losing weight.
The discussion at the APPG skirted around the role of the media, including many women’s magazines, in pushing unhelpful body images, messages around dieting / disordered eating, and gender stereotypes (the perceived incompatibility between being “feminine” and being “sporty” was touched upon).
This was disappointing, given that the WSFF’s own research has found that thinness comes above healthiness in the priorities of young women. The research found that a third of 18- to 24-year-olds and nearly half of 25- to 34-year-olds feel under greater pressure to be thin than to be healthy.
There were still many positives to take from the meeting and we were pleased to be invited and share some of our work with others. It was a real boost to hear from other organisations across the nation doing so many positive things – including the BOA who has reached 24,000 schools with their Olympic ambassador programme and other, more local initiatives, including from Priya Samuel from Sport Hampshire & IOW. Julie Smith from the Youth Sport Trust also spoke of the work they’re doing on positive sporting role models in schools. Very excellent work, great impacts, and it sounds like so much more to come.
We also look forward to the research that WSFF are currently undertaking on the role of sporting role models in increasing participation levels. This may feed into our next endeavours at Sport Watch as we partner with other local organisations in Bristol.
As more organisations start working together, crossing each other’s path in the pursuit of promoting women in sport, perhaps we’ll prove once again how success breeds success.