On Thursday 19th January, I attended the Women’s Sport: Participation, Access and Funding Conference held in London to gain a better understanding of the continued development of women’s participation in sport.
It was brilliant to be in a room with like-minded, enthusiastic people who all care passionately about increasing female participation in sport. As a dedicated sportswoman myself, I do everything I can to encourage the people around me to increase their activity. I’ve benefited hugely from sport throughout my entire life, so I know the rewards.
For me, sport made school fun, it opened lots of doors at university and instantly gave me a university ‘family’ – it’s even recently helped me to settle into a new city. In a nutshell, sport is great!
But back to the conference. Ruth Holdaway, Women in Sport CEO, gave some interesting statistics – did you know that females make up 52% of the population, but 1.7 million fewer females play sport than males? The same study also noted that playing sport increases well-being, reduces anti-social behaviour and teenage pregnancy.
It was refreshing to hear that increasing participation in sport can have a very positive effect on the growth of the economy, with one report stating that females who play sport are more likely to go to university than those who don’t.
The set-up of the day was incredible and the speakers were all so inspirational; from Maggie Alphonsi speaking about her own personal motivation to succeed and the support she received from her teachers being the difference between success and failure, to Will Chignell stating “it’s not men’s rugby and women’s rugby, it’s just rugby!”. What a quote!
Maggie Alphonsi concluded her presentation saying, “we are measured on the impact we have on others” – something which really hit home. This quote seemed to epitomise the theme of the day, because to address the issue and ensure that in 10 years’ time we don’t need to have conferences specifically for Women in Sport, it was necessary for all the attendees to leave the conference on the same wavelength.
It posed the question, “what can we do as individuals and businesses to ensure that the momentum that women’s sport currently has continues and takes us past our current tipping point?”. Imagine parity between men and women in terms of participation – that’s the dream.
Multiple agencies (The FA, RFU, Sky, BBC, England Netball, to name a few) have been working tirelessly over the past 5+ years to increase the visibility of elite women’s sport. This has certainly been made easier in the media as we have so much to be proud about as a nation. Think back to the Women’s Rugby World Cup winners of 2014 and the Women’s Football World Cup 3rd place finish in 2015 (the best result as a nation since 1966!).
Another highlight were the speakers promoting mass participation in physical activity. Mini Mermaids UK are a small scale running initiative for young girls, increasing not only participation but self-esteem. They’ve taken this great concept and now utilise Park Runs which help to include the parents, thus helping to maintain a positive cycle of parents being the role models for their daughters to participate in sport. It’s such a great initiative!
What did I take away from the day? Simple. We all need to work together to create support and strategies that underpin these amazing individuals who are currently pushing us forward. We can’t rely on individual efforts forever – teamwork is the key.