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.