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Sport: Women and Girls

Volume 743: debated on Thursday 7 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to encourage women and girls to take part in sport, and how they will seek to improve the profile of women’s sport in the media to that end.

My Lords, the Government are committed to encouraging more girls and women to play sport regularly as part of the sporting legacy. Sport England’s £1 billion community and youth sports strategy includes programmes designed to appeal specifically to women and girls. In addition, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been working closely with the broadcast and print media to encourage them to cover more women’s sport.

I thank the noble Baroness for that encouraging Answer, but can she expand on the consultation that is taking place not only with the media but with sports advisers in schools to encourage girls? In particular, what kind of sports are being identified as problematic for women and girls, and how will the media be asked to deal with that?

The picture here is encouraging but there is a tremendous amount more to do. I was struck by the fact that the latest figures, from December 2012, show that 1 million more women are taking part in sport than was the case when we won the Olympic bid in 2005. On coverage, in 2005 the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation estimated that only about 5% of media coverage was of women’s sport. The BBC has just told us that women’s sport now amounts to 25% of its sports coverage. Clearly, a lot more needs to be done and one of the things that is being taken forward by Sport England is to look at how best to encourage further development of this and encourage more women and girls to take part in sport.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that developing a sporting habit for life is something that needs to start in primary school? There is a minimal amount of physical education within that sector and teachers of primary school children receive only a meagre six to 10 hours within a one-year training session. Back in the last century, my physical education training took three years. Would the Minister agree if I suggested that the introduction of physical education to primary school teachers would be a great advantage in developing that habit for life?

My noble friend speaks from a huge amount of experience and she is of course right that it is extremely important that we develop this from the earliest age—getting children out of pushchairs, for example, and onwards. As for primary schools, she is right. I am sure that she will be reassured to know that discussions are happening at the moment about how to strengthen school sport from primary schools upwards. An announcement will be made very shortly.

My Lords, media coverage is very important and I declare an interest as chair of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport. However, for elite success and media coverage we also need good participation figures and recent data have shown that mums are much less likely to take their daughters to play sport than their sons because of their own experience of sport in school. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have to insist in changing the culture around women so that they encourage their daughters to play as much sport as their sons?

Again, the noble Baroness speaks with huge amounts of experience and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation is a crucial body in trying to take this forward. Sport England has awarded a grant to that organisation to try to identify how best to encourage women and girls to be involved in sport. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that mothers who were themselves switched off from sport are less likely to encourage their children to be involved in sport. That is one key area where we welcome insights into how best to tackle this.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, after the success of women athletes at the Olympics last year, it is a disgrace that two-thirds of boards of sporting organisations do not meet UK Sport’s minimum target of 25% female members and six, including British Cycling, do not have a woman on them at all? Given that public money is involved, do the Government have a strategy to deal with this?

The noble Baroness is right; Sport England and UK Sport are both encouraging national governing bodies of sport to increase the number of women on boards and the Government expect that all publicly funded sports bodies should have at least 25% women on their boards by 2017. That is very important but we also need more women as editors of newspapers, political programmes and so on.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the earlier you start to play sport, the more chance you have of playing golf, as I do, at the age of 90?

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the outstanding work being done in many of the mental health trusts in London to promote sport among psychotic young people? We found that taking part in regular football matches, exercise and so on significantly reduces the readmission rates of these young people. Would the Minister please put pressure on her colleagues in the Department of Health to exert pressure on the commissioning bodies to promote sport among psychotic people? Without it, many of them make very little recovery over decades?

The noble Baroness is right to highlight mental health generally in relation to sport. Public Health England is well aware of the importance of sport in relieving depression and so on. I am very happy to take the points that she makes back but I can assure her that the Department of Health is well aware of the significance of sport in this regard.

My Lords, the Government are determined that competitive sport in schools is the key to greater participation; that view is certainly not shared by the majority of physical education experts, who fear that such a programme will alienate many boys and girls and do nothing to produce a “sport for all” approach and lasting participation. What evidence is there for the Government’s proposed formula? Our evidence suggests the reverse. As for representation in the media, will the Government look at Title IX, the American system which guarantees equal exposure in sport for girls? We cannot reproduce it perfectly here but we could do a modified version, which may well help with the lack of women’s sport seen in our media.

We now have 50% of schools taking part in competitive games. There is mixed evidence as to the interest of girls and boys in that, and the noble Baroness is right to highlight to need to make sure that we analyse it properly. Sport England is looking at how best to encourage girls as well as boys to come forward. Some girls enjoy being part of a team, even if that may seem too competitive for some. I hear what the noble Baroness says on Title IX. We are taking a lot of measures to try to ensure that the media recognise the significance of covering women’s sport and the appeal of it—everybody could see how outstanding the women’s team was in the Olympics.