Two Steps Forward, One Step Back – WSW16

Sitting in the audience at Monday's launch event for Women's Sport Week, I couldn’t help but feel the momentum behind the profile and awareness of women’s sport. We are moving in the right direction. The world is slowly waking up to an equal playing field and diverse boardrooms equating to a stronger economy and future. We already know the social and physical benefits of sport, and new research from Women in Sport and Investec goes further to highlight the benefits this gives women in their personal and professional endeavors – affirming what the majority of the room already knew.

This can be echoed across the past 12 months. In its entirety, the progress of Women’s Sport in the last year is positive. Yet there is still this underlying attitude that likes to rear its ugly head: we seem to take two steps forward, and one step back.

October 2015 | Chelsea Ladies Leading the Way.
For the second season running the Women’s Super League went down to the final game, with Chelsea Ladies clinching their first ever title. The win also landed Chelsea their second trophy of the season after their victory over Notts County in The 2015 SSE Women’s FA Cup Final. This success would have been unlikely had the women’s team’s future been left in the hands of the club’s board. It was the then Chelsea F.C. and England captain, John Terry, who came to the rescue when their budgets were cut in 2009.

November 2015| Slow Progess for NGOs
Change needs to start at the top. Having a greater number of women in decision-making roles will benefit sport at every level. The annual ‘Trophy Women’ Report, published by Women in Sport, highlighted that almost half of sporting organisations boards failed to meet the 25% gender balance guideline, while 16% were found to have no women at executive level at all.

December 2015 | Women’s Participation Rising Faster than Men’s
Good news: the gender gap is closing at a grassroots level. Sport England released its latest findings from its Active People Survey. The number of people regularly playing sport rose by 1.65 million between 2005 and 2015, with the rise driven by an increase in the number of women playing sport. 7.01 million females aged 16 years or over (31.2%) played sport once a week, with running the fastest growing sport for women.

January 2016 | Gayle’s Conduct Falls Short
Gender equality is not recognised by all. West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle rightly drew sharp criticism for his comments after asking out reporter Mel McLaughlin live on air. He was subsequently fined £4,900 for his remarks.

February 2016 | NFL Believes in Diversity
Across the pond, the NFL continued with its efforts to encourage female involvement in the sport. February 2016 saw the introduction of a “Rooney Rule” for women, requiring teams to interview female candidates for “executive positions”.

March 2016 | Indian Wells CEO Sparks Outrage
Another day, another example of a high-profile gender howler. Indian Wells CEO, Raymond Moore’s comments that the women’s tour “rides on the coat-tails” of the men’s game received widespread backlash, resulting in his resignation. This reignited the debate of women’s pay in tennis – despite the sport remunerating men and women equally across the four Grand Slams.

April 2016 | Netball Goes Full Time
England Netball announced that players would go full-time from June 2016, with 14 players initially selected to join the summer training camp. The move is part of England Netball’s mission to reach the 2019 World Cup.

May 2016 | Record SSE Women’s FA Cup Crowd
For the second season running, The SSE Women’s FA Cup Final was held in front of a record crowd. Nearly 33,000 people were in Wembley Stadium, with millions more at watching from home as Arsenal defeated current holders Chelsea to claim their 14th title.

June 2016 | Synergy: This Girl Does
Synergy’s event with Jacqui Oatley MBE, Tanya Joseph, Colin Banks, Ruth Holdaway and Carly Telford provided thought-provoking discussion. Brands left with a clear positive message on the commercial and social value to be gained from women’s sport partnerships. See here for our seven top takeaways from the day.

July 2016 | Royal Troon Enters a New Age
After Muirfield voted not to admit women members in May, Royal Troon showed the golfing world the way forward as their members “overwhelmingly” voted to allow women to join.

August 2016 | RFU Tackles Sexism
The RFU announced they are to award 48 new contracts, including 16 full-time deals, to members of the senior women’s squad ahead of their World Cup defense in 2017. The decision came as part of new £1 million investment in the women’s game, and will allow the squad to train full-time.

August 2016 | Olympic Coverage Backlash
Media coverage of female achievements during the Rio Games was consistently slammed as sexist and degrading. From Andy Murray’s put down of John Inverdale to Helen Skelton’s wardrobe debate, everyday sexism within the media was quickly shut down. The level of backlash to the media coverage showed a growing intolerance of gender inequality amongst sports fans and represents a new age of women’s sport reporting.

September 2016 | ‘Vast’ gender wage gap still exists
As we begin to feel we’d climbed the summit, our summer and post-Olympic come down was worsened by the Gender Balance in Global Sport report. Published by Women on Boards, it found significant differences in pay for men and women in basketball, golf and football.

September 2016 | City Make the Front Page
Ending on a high, Manchester City claimed their first WSL title in style, beating the current champions 2-0 and earning a rare front-page slot in The Guardian. A watershed moment for the women’s game, and a huge step forward for Women’s Sport.

Recapping on the year, it is apparent the media, sponsors, governing bodies and NGOs are all saying, doing, or acknowledging what needs to be done to continue to move forward. Disappointingly, the work of the many is all quickly undermined by the headline-grabbing actions of the few. Fortunately, opposing these outdated perceptions is a much stronger force and fans are ready to openly voice their outrage and disagreement. 10 years ago complaints would be buried in the news editors’ inboxes; today sport is an ongoing social media spectacle, and fans are the harshest, but most honest critics. Harnessing the power of them will be integral to really making a difference. Surely this, combined with new research, is enough for us to take action, instead of continuing to simply highlight the issues? I remind myself that we’re preaching to the converted: a room full of women – and men – who are at the forefront of advocating and supporting change.

We retweet, like and love posts from people that share and validate our opinion. But we are people who love sport, work in sport, and are already invested in it promoting women’s sport.

So, how do we only move forward? Women’s Sport needs to evolve from a movement into the norm. Women's Sport needs bigger brands that talk to a bigger audience. Brands have the power to reach the masses and be a part of social change.

After all, actions speak louder than words.

Women’s Sport Week 2016

Taking over our blog today, in honor of Women's Sport Week, is Anna Kessel, renowned sportswriter for the Guardian and the Observer, as well as Chair and co-founder of Women in Football. In June, Anna was awarded an MBE for her services to journalism and women in sport.

What makes sport so important to you? Why have you made it your mission for other women to embrace this?

Because for me, sport has remained this last bastion of male privilege in which women have been, and continue to be, excluded. And that's just rubbish because sport is great fun - why should women and girls miss out? It's also hugely important pretty much every way you look at it - the United Nations say sport has the power to tackle gender inequality across the globe, EY says sport can help women to smash the glass ceiling in their careers, and you've only got to think about it for two minutes to realise that sport is the perfect antidote to all the body image woes debilitating women in the Western world. With the 'fourth wave of feminism' at play everywhere we look at the moment - from fashion to TV, advertising to politics, I was determined that sport should not be left untouched by this modernising force. Sport needs women, and women - I think - need sport.

There was huge public outcry to the media’s sexism towards the female Olympians at Rio this summer. Were you surprised by the public’s response?

I was thrilled that everyone I knew was talking about a Hungarian swimmer whose husband was given the credit for her medal winning performance. Previously, those stories have barely registered in the sports pages, let alone the mainstream media. But over the summer every women's outlet going - not to mention national newspapers - published story after story about the sexiest episodes plaguing the Games. It was a real watershed moment, women and men outside of the usual sports audience waking up to some of the injustices that routinely take place in sport, and feeling outraged about them. It's all part of the bigger, and very important, picture of a widening slice of the population wanting to engage in sport and caring more about what happens in sport.

Women arguably have less time than ever before to participate and engage with sport. What can brands do to help make sport more accessible women with those time constraints?It's all about changing the usual offerings that sport gives us - thinking outside of the box, thinking from a range of female perspectives. Some of the solutions are obvious - for example Chelsea football club offering a crèche at Stamford Bridge for their fans. I'm pretty sure they're the only Premier League club to do this (something they should really shout about). Or it might be about creating a family led sporting experience e.g. Jessica Ennis-Hill has just launched a series of sporting days out for all the family, which fits in perfectly with families wanting to make the most of their leisure time together, be more active, spend more time outdoors, be healthier. The Cycletta series offers women various distance cycling events, followed by beauty treatments - which might not be everyone's cup of tea (and I know some women who will actively hate that sort of thing!) but ultimately, it's about offering a wider range of experiences for women to connect with, and putting across a very clear message that sport is for women, of all types, backgrounds and ages.

Should brands be leveraging their influence with men’s clubs/sport to help women’s teams/sport – for example should Adidas be pushing Manchester United to create a women’s side?

Yes! For anyone passionate about women's sport the fact that Manchester United continues to ignore women's football is a travesty. But, ethics aside, surely it makes business sense too? Currently sportswear giants are only making use of half of their potential market. Imagine if they could sell female specific football boots and kit to women and girls? At the moment girls and women who play football have to make do with boys and men's kit - even at an elite level (much to my irritation.) Look at the explosion in fitness clothing sales for women, don't sports brands want to capitalise on that to include sport specific kit? Add to that the recent trend for femvertising, and the power of championing women in connection with brands and it seems a no brainer - to me - that doing 'the right thing' by women and sport ticks all the boxes.

There are a lot of sports with big viewerships at the Olympics, take Gymnastics as an example, but are without major sponsors or profile domestically. Why do you think this is?

Because for aeons everyone's just accepted a particular hierarchy in sport, namely that men's Premier League football attracts all the cash and all the attention and not much else is worth bothering about. But the exciting thing about doing something new, and taking a risk, is how new ideas can fly and really take off. And that's a great creative space to be getting involved in, and potentially financially rewarding too.The Women's Boat Race is the classic example - Helena Morrissey bought the event for a song, and got a 10-fold return, as well as front and back page coverage of her brand in doing so, because she created a moment for the sport, a historical event. Last week I received an email advertising the gymnastics World Cup taking place at The O2 in London, marketed by Matchroom - Barry and Eddie Hearn's business. No one ever usually bothers with World Cups in Gymnastics, they're below World and European champs in the pecking order....and yet, as soon as I read the email I wanted to buy the family day ticket so I could take my daughter to watch the sessions because she - like millions of others - watched the Rio Olympics, thought, "wow", and asked, "Mummy when can we go and see the gymnastics in real life?"

Anna’s book Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives has been long listed for this year's William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

Women’s Sport Week 2016

In our second instalment of special guest interviews to celebrate Women’s Sport Week 2016 we spoke to Baroness Sue Campbell, Head of Women’s Football at The FA. A former England netball player and coach, Baroness Campbell assumed her position at UK Sport in 2003, a year in which she also received a CBE for her services to sport. In that role, she was responsible for the strategies that led to Team GB’s record-breaking performance at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Baroness Campbell’s appointment to Head of Women’s Football in 2015 was made at a time when the sport has been enjoying an upsurge in popularity and is a real opportunity for her to help shape the future vision and strategy for girls’ and women’s football.
This year you were appointed as Head of Women’s Football for The FA. Tell us a bit more about this role and why it appealed to you?

It is a great privilege to be working as Head of Women's Football. So much has already been achieved, but it is now the time to take the game to a new level and ensure it realises its potential. My role is to work with everyone in the game to develop a new national strategy – doubling the number of women playing the game, doubling the fan base and achieving consistent success on the International stage.

How important is the women’s game to The FA? Martin Glenn has said it is a ‘priority’ for The FA but what does that mean?

Martin is very committed to support the development of the women's game and has made it a top priority for the whole of the FA. There is enormous enthusiasm, passion and support within the football family to get this right.

What is your vision for Women’s Football in the UK? What do you think the “step up” is after the Lionesses’ success in Canada at the 2015 FIFA World Cup?

The game has huge potential to grow and develop at every level. The success of the England team in Canada has raised the profile of the game and set new expectations. The next step is to provide a wider range of opportunities for young girls and women to play, coach and officiate, create a clear talent pathway that is accessible for all girls – no matter where they live – and develop a sustainable, successful high-performance system.

How much do you think it is lack of opportunity vs. challenging perceptions that limits the number of female players coming through?

It’s both! We need to provide a range of opportunities that meets the needs, interests and motivations of all girls and women – whether they wish to play for fun, fitness and friendship or they even have an ambition to play at the highest level. But we also need to change the brand and image of the game and develop a wide-ranging communication plan to reach more girls and women.

What power does football have to change the lives of girls and women in society?

There are some massive challenges facing girls and women in society. Growing issues over their physical and emotional wellbeing, the potential negative impact of new technologies leading to bullying and isolation, a growing complex, multi-cultural society and a lack of employment and leadership opportunities. No sport on its own can resolve these challenges, but the strength of the football brand, combined with the massive potential to grow the game means that football could make an immense contribution to women's role in society.

What do you think needs to change to get girls into sport in their early formative stages of their life?

There is no question that basic physical literacy should be in every primary school and that all sports can play their part in providing support to schools, developing quality after school programmes and providing a range of community opportunities so that all girls can experience and enjoy being active. Primary years can motivate or deter young people for life, so we have to get it right!

Does it trouble you that the likes of Manchester United have no senior women’s team? Is there a plan to get more support from the Premier League?

The teams in the FA WSL are there because of the commitment and excellence of highly motivated individuals who are passionate about the women's game. We want to spread that passion and get more people working to improve opportunities for women to play and succeed in the game. One of my first meetings was with Richard Scudamore at the Premier League, because it is important that we all work collaboratively to achieve the ambitious targets we have set for the women's game.

Are there other governing bodies in the world of women’s football and sport that you are taking inspiration from?

There is always much to learn from everyone across the world of football and in other sports. But I am sure the majority of the country was inspired by the GB women's hockey team’s performance in Rio. It was the style of their success that was so impressive. The very best of women's sport. It would be wonderful if we could have a GB football team in Tokyo to inspire us all.

If you could change just one thing in women’s football, what would it be?There is much to be proud of in the women's game. The key to achieving many of our goals is to attract the investment and marketing support of a range of commercial partners committed to the women's game.

How important is continued commercial investment for women’s football in this country?

Very important at every level. We will be seeking corporate partners who can work in partnership with us to market the game to girls and women across the country and whose business mission aligns with ours.

What do you think is the biggest area of opportunity for a brand in women’s sport?

Any brand coming into the game at this point will be entering girls’ and women's sport at a time when the physical and emotional well-being of young women is a major growing concern. Investment in women's football is an investment in the future health of the game, women and society as a whole. It is the opportunity to transform a generation of young women.

This week it is Women’s Sport Week. Can you see a time when we won’t need special weeks to raise awareness of women’s sport and how far off are we from that time?

The special focus on women's sport is key to raising awareness and celebrating all that is being achieved by women at every level of sport. The media have gradually improved their coverage of women's sport, but we still have a very long way to go!

Who do you currently think are the greatest role models in women’s sport?

Women's sport has many individual role models and the members of the England women's football team are among the most inspiring. It is not just their achievements we should celebrate but the journey they have taken to get there – overcoming so many barriers and setbacks to reach their goal. At the grassroots end of sport, my role models are the volunteer coaches who turn out in all weathers to support their players and develop their talent.

Who is your biggest influence on you when you were younger and now?

The biggest influence on me as a young person was my dad, closely followed by my PE teacher. Today I am inspired by young people who, given a chance, always amaze you!