Skip to main content

Female Participation in Sport

Volume 598: debated on Thursday 9 July 2015

3. What steps he is taking to halt the decline in female participation in sport since the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. (900853)

7. What steps he is taking to halt the decline in female participation in sport since the London 2012 Games. (900858)

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the England women’s football team on winning bronze at the world cup in Canada. I am sure the whole House would agree with me that their performance in the world cup will inspire many girls to play football.

Female participation in sport is up since we won the Olympic bid in 2005 and is up since 2010, but despite an initial spike immediately post-London 2012, it has begun to decline since 2012. This downward trend is unsatisfactory and the forthcoming publication of our sport strategy will establish how the Government will reverse this trend.

England is hosting this year’s rugby world cup and I am delighted to be welcoming the cup itself, the Webb Ellis, to Halifax rugby club on 5 August. As a former fly-half for Lancaster University and the Halifax Vandals, may I say that it was disappointing that the latter team folded as we simply did not have the numbers to continue? Will the Minister tell me what lessons can be drawn from the Olympics to promote the rugby world cup as a means of encouraging women in particular to continue all types of sport into their adult lives?

The legacy of the rugby world cup is something we are taking very seriously. As somebody who has a premiership female rugby team in my constituency, I know it is a growing sport. The success of the England women’s sevens getting to Rio next year will continue to inspire many girls and ladies to play rugby in the future.

The number of females joining sports clubs in Wales since the 2012 London Olympics has increased by a massive 81%, while in England, as the Minister said, there has been a steady decline. The investment in grassroots sport by the Welsh Labour Government has enabled my constituents Hannah Brier and Emily Jones to come through the superb Sport Wales development structure. Hannah, aged 17, has already broken the 100 metres Welsh national record, which had stood for more than 30 years, and is now a member of the GB team going to the youth world championships. Emily, aged 10, has been supported to represent Disability Sport Wales and has won two national gold medals. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Hannah and Emily on their fantasmagorical achievements, and will she meet the sports Minister in the Welsh Labour Government, Ken Skates, to see whether she can pick up any tips?

I would be delighted to congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituents on their success so far. She herself will be encouraging of that, given her own history of competing for the GB youth team in Munich, and I know she takes grassroots sport incredibly seriously. It is important that we all do what we can to encourage the next generation of athletes, particularly women, to participate in sport.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the growth in women’s running, supported by parkrun—there are two in my constituency: one in Eastleigh and one in Netley Abbey—is greatly aiding the post-2012 participation rate for women?

Parkrun has been a phenomenal success, and we are looking at whether we can replicate it across other sports, because it has used technology incredibly well to encourage more people to get involved in sport. I would like to see that continue.

May I suggest that other people copy my hon. Friend the Minister, who, in her personal capacity, has trained and led girls’ football teams? We need more people to understand that taking part in sport and then passing on one’s skills to others is one of the best ways of getting participation up. I congratulate her.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind comments. I think that participation in sport is incredibly important, but the only way to get people doing it is to have an absolutely solid group of volunteers helping to run grassroots sport. That is something I would like to encourage. We have seen phenomenal success from organisations such as Join In that help to facilitate participation across the country, and I would encourage everybody in the House to get involved with their local sports club.

Has the Minister assessed the impact in Scotland of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics? If so, are there any plans to compare the tangible legacy in Scotland of the Commonwealth games with that of London 2012?

There was a recent Grant Thornton report on the legacy and its impact on Scotland, and I would be happy to share those details with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that the legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics be felt across the United Kingdom, and that is something we will be developing further in the forthcoming sports strategy.

The women’s cycling tour recently held its Northamptonshire stage, whose triumphal arrival into Kettering, amid cheering crowds, was the highlight. Will the Minister agree that women’s cycling is leading the way in encouraging women to take part in sport?

Women’s cycling is incredibly important and something I would like to see more of. The recent tour was the start of great things to come, and I am certainly a supporter of a female Tour de France.