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Women’s Participation in Sport

Volume 577: debated on Thursday 13 March 2014

Our £1 billion youth and community sport strategy is delivering new ways to help women and girls develop a sporting habit for life. We have invested £2.3 million in a year-long pilot in Bury looking at ways to break down the barriers to female participation. I am glad to tell the hon. Lady that the pilot is producing some very good results.

Back in February, the Minister made some remarks about the fact that different types of women may be attracted, or not attracted, to different types of sports and physical activity. Although I agree with the general point she made, I was worried by her simple characterisation of some sports as “feminine” and others as “unfeminine”. Does she regret her choice of words? Does she accept that many women would see her remarks as simply some sort of throwback to the 1920s?

I caution the hon. Lady about believing everything she sees and reads in our newspapers, and I am a little surprised at her question. Nevertheless, I am happy to provide clarification by saying to her what I said to the press: we should be listening to what our women and girls want, and we should be giving it to them. We should not be prescriptive, but we should be listening. As a sportswoman myself, I believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. In addition, I think our sports governing bodies need to work harder and be even more innovative in attracting women. We also need to share best practice so that other sports can learn lessons from sports, such as boxing and netball, that are doing particularly well in attracting women.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Kent FA on its highly successful Goals for Girls event held in my constituency last Saturday and Sky Sports on covering it live? Is that not an example of how broadcasters should be showcasing women’s and girls’ sport, encouraging them to participate in all sorts of physical activity?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I know that a considerable amount of football activity takes place in her neck of the woods. While she was attending her event last Saturday, I was attending a girls under-15s international in Maidstone, where England won 8-0. On her point about the media, if we want to see more women in sport and an increased profile of them, we need the media to do more. The BBC and Sky have upped their game since the last Olympics, with individuals such as Barbara Slater doing a lot more.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should take this opportunity to place on the record our great thanks to our successful Olympians and Paralympians in Sochi, particularly Lizzy Yarnold and Jade Etherington? This should be used to encourage more women to reach the top of their chosen sport.

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. Our Olympians and Paralympians are making us very proud. They are brilliant role models in their own right and I know that they are inspiring a lot more women and girls in our country to take up sport.