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Sporting Activity (Participation)

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015

Women’s participation is up by more than 500,000 since we won the Olympic bid in 2005, but recent figures show the beginning of a decline since the high point in 2012. We know that lots of women regularly take part in physical activity that is not measured at present, but we also recognise that various obstacles put women and girls off playing sport. The new sports strategy will help to remove those obstacles.

My great city of Stoke-on-Trent will be the 2016 European city of sport. That is brilliant news for my constituents, but we need to ensure a strong legacy from that accolade. Research suggests that families on low incomes have only £2.55 a week to spend on active leisure activities. Young women prefer to participate in organised indoor sports, but many are precluded from doing so on the basis of available funds. What is the Minister doing to ensure that young women are actively encouraged to participate, regardless of their parents’ pay packets?

I feel very strongly about this issue, having coached a girls football team for many years. As a football club, we have made sure that cost is not a prohibitive factor in involvement. It is important that we ensure that there are many activities out there in which women and girls can participate, and Parkrun has become one of the fastest growing. It has a huge amount of support from women and girls all over the country. There are many different reasons why women do not participate in sport and cost might well be one of them, but we must consider all those issues as part of the wider sports strategy.

Does the Minister agree that parents have a huge responsibility? At about this time parents are thinking of what to buy their daughters for Christmas. It might not make parents the most popular people in the household on Christmas morning, but they might consider buying their daughters gym membership and a pair of trainers.

As someone who is hopefully producing a future sports star, I do not think it is for me to dictate to parents what they buy their children for Christmas. It is important that parents understand that their girls might want to get involved in sport, and perhaps not in traditional girls sport, and that they should be as supportive as possible.

There is a significant drop-off in girls’ participation in sport from 49% in year 7 to a surprisingly low 31% in year 9. Does the Minister agree that more research is needed to understand the reasons for that drop-off, and that we need to start taking action much earlier to make sure that girls are growing up with sport as a normal part of their lives?

There are many reasons why girls stop participating in sport at certain ages and it is important that we understand what those may be. We know that 14, for example, is a key age when girls start to lose interest in sport. It is important that schools and clubs outside schools understand all the competing pressures in a girl’s life at that age and can support them into sport and physical activity at appropriate points. Good places will do that and be as adaptable and flexible as possible, but it always worth looking in more detail into why people stop playing sport or participating in physical activity.