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Sports Coverage

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 7 March 2019

3. What steps his Department is taking to support media coverage of sport played by (a) women and (b) disabled people. (909639)

Sport is a devolved matter in Scotland, but through Sport England we fund 45 different sporting governing bodies that support grassroots participation and talented athletes. When people watch broadcast sport, they should see women and disabled people, too. Although progress has been made over the last few years, especially in women’s sport, there is scope to do better. I met broadcasters and sporting organisations recently to discuss with them what more they can do.

As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for golf, I am proud that we were one of the first signatories to the R&A women in golf charter, which commits to the development of a more inclusive culture in the sport. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming that initiative, and will he meet me and major golfing bodies to discuss what we are doing and what can be done to encourage more women and girls to enjoy the sport?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in offering congratulations on that significant step forward, and we want to see more. I am sure that I or my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), who is the Minister responsible for sport, will be happy to meet him to discuss the matter further.

With the decline in print media, and in sports coverage in some local news programming, minority sports struggle to be noticed and they face challenges in attracting new participants. The problem is infinitely more acute in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have much smaller media and broadcast markets than England. I back the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport contestable fund, which supports children’s TV, but I wonder whether the Secretary of State or the Minister with responsibility for sport will meet me to discuss what we can do to support minority sports coverage.

Again, I am happy to agree to that proposal. It is worth our understanding more clearly the exact picture in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman says. Broadcasting is a reserved matter and sport is a devolved matter, so we must make sure that the two work in sync. In England, we support a range of sports—I am sure that the same thing happens in Scotland—and we want to see whether we can give such sports greater prominence so that people can find a sport that they get on with, that they want to do and that they enjoy, in order to promote greater participation in sport more broadly.

This lunchtime sees the official launch at Lord’s of the women’s parliamentary cricket team, which will attract media coverage. Will the Secretary of State, on International Women’s Day, wish the venture all success? Will he perhaps offer a word of congratulation to my senior parliamentary assistant, Megan Williams, who has gone to huge efforts to make this happen and will be captaining the side?

I am very happy to do that, and I wish Megan and the rest of the side the very best of luck. My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of women’s cricket. He makes the case for it very well and often, and we hear him. We are also talking about the broadcast of women’s sport, and I know that he will recognise that it is a step forward that the first stand-alone women’s world T20 competition this year will be broadcast on British free-to-air television.

Let me join in the congratulations to Megan Williams, the senior parliamentary assistant to the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight). I am aware, courtesy of a letter from her to me dated yesterday, of the inaugural event, which I am advised will take place from 11 am onwards. I gather that as a result of co-operation with the England and Wales Cricket Board, they will be joined by Lydia Greenway, a top England women’s cricketer—lending real weight and ballast to this very welcome initiative. I think Megan deserves huge plaudits from across this House.

Thanks to Sky Sports, the women’s Six Nations has received much wider coverage since 2017 than ever before. However, Sky Sports is a subscription channel. Can the Minister tell us whether the conversations he has mentioned extend to conversations with the rugby unions of the home nations and free-to-view channels about getting this competition on a free-to-view channel before the next International Women’s Day?

We are certainly having conversations with all the broadcasters about what more they can do.

By the way, I should correct myself: I think it is in fact Sky that will be broadcasting the women’s world T20, not a free-to-air broadcaster as I suggested. Sky is doing a good deal, and we welcome that. We hope it will do more. I am having conversations about how we can broaden the scope of women’s sport and disability sport that people see on television so that they can see a variety of different sports, perhaps including in the highlights packages they may see. That is an important way of engaging people with a broader understanding of what is happening in the sporting environment.