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Access to Sport: Women and Girls

Volume 743: debated on Thursday 11 January 2024

Women and girls should have exactly the same access to sport as boys and men. That is why we supported the recommendations in Karen Carney’s excellent report. It is why we are investing £600 million to boost equal access to sport, and why we recently announced £30 million for the Lionesses Futures Fund to deliver 30 pitches across the country with priority access for women and girls, with further opportunities for 8,000 women and girls.

We have had fantastic success with women’s football, particularly the Lionesses, including Harrogate’s Rachel Daly, who has been a great inspiration locally, but what steps is my right hon. and learned Friend taking to ensure that sports with a smaller following can sustain a competitive grassroots environment for girls?

I recognise Rachel’s success as the top scorer in the women’s super league last year. We support sport at every level. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, funded by the Government, inspires millions of women and girls to get involved in all sports. The School Games programme, also funded by the Government, encourages children to take up sport and get active.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks there has been a spate of disgusting sexist, misogynistic abuse directed towards sportswomen just for being at the top of their game. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), has been on the receiving end just for standing up to it, which I commend him for. I agree with him that vile, misogynistic comments are dangerous. The reality is that they are putting women and girls off sport. Does the Secretary of State agree that every sporting organisation should have a strategy to eliminate all forms of sexual harassment and abuse?

I agree with the hon. Member: we should not have misogynistic, bullying behaviour in sport, and all governing bodies should be looking at what their sports are doing. We set out in our sports strategy how we should have fair competition and integrity in sport.

The Secretary of State mentioned the Carney review, but I am afraid that the Government seem to be failing women’s football on that, with a complete lack of detail about how the implementation group to put into practice the Carney review recommendations will work. Without senior leadership, that group will not have the teeth that it needs, and all the hard work will be put at risk. Fans, players and clubs deserve urgent action and leadership from the top. If the Secretary of State does not reform the women’s game and give it the same prominence as the men’s, I will. Will she commit to chairing the implementation group, and reporting back to Parliament so that MPs can hold her to account?

I completely dispute what the hon. Member says about our support for women in sport, and women in football. I have had the pleasure of meeting Karen Carney on a number of occasions. Her report is excellent. We endorse all its recommendations, many of which are for the FA, which I have also spoken to on this subject. I will ensure that the recommendations are fulfilled. The implementation board will have all the governing bodies on it. Its first meeting is in March. I will keep a very close eye on the board, and will work very closely with my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on that and every other issue.