In celebration of International Women’s Week 2016, Uni Girls Can held an event at the University of Leeds where a panel of females in the professional athletes industry were invited to a Q&A session to discuss the barriers for women within the sporting industry.
The panel included:
Sarah Spears - Synchronised Swimming Coach
Non Stanford - World Champion Triathlete and upcoming member of the Olympic Team
Alison Rose - Jessica Ennis-Hill Physiotherapist
Emily Freeman - Olympic 200 Metre Runner
Stacey Copeland - Boxing European Silver Medalist
What barriers have you faced in your sport because of your gender?
This was an interesting one. Each panel member had a different response depending on what her sport was. Sarah Spears and Non Stanford said they faced very little, if any, barriers in their chosen sport because of their gender. In fact, Sarah suggested that it is probably men that face barriers within synchronised swimming because it is dominated by females. Emily Freeman said that many women do not want to take part in sport because of the physical change to their body, a woman having a muscly figure is often not seen as desirable in society. On the other hand, Stacey Copeland shared how when she was younger, females were not allowed to compete in boxing. In fact, she once pretended to be a boy at a young age, just so she could spar with someone during a training session!
What is your opinion of the way the media represents females in sport?
The answer for this one was pretty obvious. ‘Appalling’ was a word used very often. Many of the panel discussed how the media very rarely focus on their sporting achievements, the effort and dedication that goes into being an athlete and the incredible physical shape they have to be in at the top levels. The media focuses more on what they are wearing, whether they look sexually appealing, and if their body shape is too manly.
Another important point that was made was how very little coverage women’s sport actually receives from the media. On average, women’s sport receives 2% newspaper coverage, 4% radio, 7% on TV and only receives 0.4% investment. Non Stanford believes that the interest is definitely there, and stated that the day after the Women’s 2011 Football World Cup, women’s football was the most tweeted about topic at that time.
How would you describe the effectiveness of the school curriculum when it comes to inspiring young girls to an active lifestyle?
There is a big drop off of girls taking part in sport at school during year 9. Most girls at this age do not like the idea of becoming sweaty, and quite a lot of the time, ruining their image.
Stacey Copeland shared her opinion on this subject, and believes that the school curriculum currently does not offer equal opportunities for boys and girls. Usually, each gender will have set sports. For example, boys will be assessed in rugby and football whilst the girls play netball and rounders. Even at a professional level, sports such as football are not seen as important or valued within the women’s field. The England Women’s cricket team have had multiple ashes victories, and the Lionesses were more successful in 2015 than the England Men’s Football team since the 1966 World Cup win. Yet, these women achieve these successes whilst also having a separate full-time job, and that is something men have never had to overcome. Alison Rose supported this view and believes the curriculum should give girls every opportunity to try a whole bunch of sports.
The curriculum is one of many things that acts as a social indicator and delivers subconscious messages to children that boys and girls should do certain things, we are in the 21st century, and this needs to change.
What are your thoughts on the Sport England: This Girl Can Campaign?
Non Stanford shared her opinion on the campaign, and believes it shows that real women can also do sport, and that’s a great strength of the campaign. Sarah Spears voiced that the campaign is so brilliant because it’s not purely about the sport itself, but about women across the nation just wanting to give something a go.
2.8 million women have taken up sport as a direct result of the campaign, and that is purely phenomenal!
Overall, the evening was incredibly inspirational. It was a fantastic insight in to the sporting industry and a great opportunity to listen to real-life stories from real women. I was blown away by how little coverage women’s sport actually receives, and I really believe that anyone out there who also shares the same feeling, should get behind the campaign as much as possible.
Thank you, Uni Girls Can!
Words: Charlie Sizer