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Lucky number nine? The place of women and girls in the Bristol Mayor’s Sports Commission final report

Bristol-city-hallOn the 20th of November 2013, we gave evidence at the Mayor’s Sports Commission. The Commission had three main aims –

  1. raise sporting aspirations of the city
  2. increase participation
  3. unlock the array of benefits that come from sport (improved health, social cohesion, etc.).

Our recommendations to the Commission fell neatly into all three camps.

We asked Bristol to be bold in its sporting ambition, pointing out that there was already so much to celebrate with a smorgasbord of successful women’s teams in the city. We provided clear recommendations to help increase the participation of our women and girls in sport. And we pointed out the significant benefits that sport can bring – building confidence, improving health, and creating leaders.

Our report identified a number of barriers to women in sport. One of the biggest barriers being cultural, with sport being seen as unfeminine and our role models remaining hidden. We also identified the difficulty in accessing expertise and the lower levels of funding available to female athletes. Related to the lack of funding is the lower levels of media attention that women’s sport receives.

As a city in the midst of a significant baby-boom, we targeted local schools with the challenge of overcoming gender stereotypes by offering specialist training to primary school teachers, providing financial support to female coaches, giving girls extra skills training, and funding motivational speakers in our schools.

More widely, we wanted the whole city to celebrate women in sport by celebrating their achievements. We proposed that the city commits to hosting equal numbers of leading sports events for men as for women. We recommended that the Mayor and the council use their influence to leverage increased coverage of women’s sport in local media outlets. We suggested improved access to women’s sporting magazines within the local authority.

Finally, we recommended that the city build on the good practice already in evidence in pockets of our city. We talked about the ‘Us Girls’ campaign run by StreetGames in Southmead, the City of Bristol College Sports Maker programme, and the Active Women project funded by Sport England. If we were writing our evidence now, perhaps we’d also talk about our own website as we have spent the past year promoting sportswomen in our city.

Our recommendations were detailed because we wanted to provide the city with a clear pathway for realising tangible and achievable results.

The Commission’s report is not quite so specific. The report has identified ten key sporting priorities for the city, of which to “promote women’s and girls’ sport” is number nine. The final report and recommendations – found here – don’t explain how this will be achieved. But we are pleased that women and girls has at least been highlighted as an area of focus.

The central recommendation from the Mayor’s Sports Commission is the setting up of a Sports Partnership Body to deliver the aims of Bristol: Sport4Life. Sport4Life is in reference to a longer term strategic plan for the city – “Bristol’s strategy for sport and active recreation 2013 to 2018”. The full strategy document is available here.

Unfortunately, the Sport4Life strategy doesn’t have a whole lot to say about women and girls. A quick Ctrl+F finds zero mention of the word “girl” or “girls” or “woman”. There are two mentions of the word “women”. The first is in reference to a straightforward life expectancy statistic. The second is under the heading of “A Healthy and Equal City”. This sounds promising.

The paragraph reads:

We know that regular participation in sport and active recreation is good for people’s general health and wellbeing. Increasing life expectancy and reducing incidence of cancer, cardio-vascular disease, diabetes, respiratory problems, mental health problems, dementia and obesity are all recognised city-wide health priorities in Bristol that can be positively impacted upon by regular participation in sport and active recreation. However, almost half of Bristol’s adults are inactive. Women, people aged 55+, residents from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups, people with a life long limiting illness/disability and people from lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be inactive and the most in need of positive intervention. We consider these to be priority groups.

On the one-hand, this is a positive result. Women are a priority group.

But wait. If we are truly going to have an equal city then shouldn’t this be an underlying principle of all the recommendations and activities themselves? Women shouldn’t be sliced off in a sub-section. Representing 51% of the population, we are not a niche category. We should be right there at each strategic step – Bristol women as part of an active city, a strong skilled city, and a city of opportunity.

It seems this might be a case of cross your fingers and hold your breath. What will come from the Mayor’s Sports Commission and its recommendations, specifically, lucky number nine, is still unclear. Much will depend on the Sports Partnership Body which is being set up. We await to see who the key players will be and how their vision for a bold Bristol where sport is front and centre for everyone is achieved.

We hope to see some clear and definitive calls to action for women and girls because we know that this city, our city, can be a true leader in sport for all.



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