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Women in Sport

Volume 760: debated on Thursday 5 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to encourage women to participate in sports on a professional basis.

My Lords, the Minister for Sport has made the participation of women in sport one of her top priorities, along with raising its profile. Last year the Government hosted their first national women’s sport conference, where Sport England launched the campaign This Girl Can. We wish to inspire women at all levels of ability and we seek increased media coverage, sponsorship and participation at professional level.

I thank my noble friend for that reply and celebrate the fact that the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Royal St George’s Golf Club have at last opened their doors to women members. What are the Government doing to encourage more participation in women’s golf so that we can have more 18 year-old women like Charley Hull competing for the world’s biggest prizes in women’s golf?

My Lords, at grass-roots level Sport England is investing £13 million in the England Golf Partnership to get more people playing golf. The partnership has also launched specific programmes to attract new participants, such as Get into golf, and the reports are that 45% of participants in the starter programme are women. There has just been a BBC documentary about Charley Hull, the extraordinary golf player.

My Lords, it is wonderful to see in the modern era of sport that governing bodies such as cricket’s have finally issued real contracts to women, but in other sports such as football there is huge disparity between the men’s and the women’s game. We only have to see the recent England v Germany match at Wembley to see that the public embrace women’s football. I pay tribute to the tireless work of Kelly Simmons at the FA. In the USA some of this inequality has been tackled by the Title IX legislation. Is it not time that we had our own version in Britain?

My Lords, first I think that the noble Baroness has been an extraordinary inspiration for sport and women in sport. The Americans have had that experience in the higher education sector. In this country, participation rates for men and women in higher education are 61% and 53% respectively, so the gap is less than in other sectors. We wish to concentrate our efforts on ensuring that a much broader cross-section is able to enjoy sport.

Following on from the noble Baroness’s previous question, I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing the England football team well as they prepare for the World Cup in Canada in July. However, have the Government made any representations to FIFA about the fact that they will play on artificial pitches? That would never be contemplated for their male counterparts. In this instance, it is not a case of wanting a level playing field, but the same playing field.

My Lords, I will certainly take up the point. I am not aware of the different playing pitches. I think grass is a very good surface to play on. I wish the football team extremely well. They are currently ranked sixth in the world. I hope that they win.

Will my noble friend bear in mind that the Commonwealth Games gives enormous encouragement worldwide to the full participation of women professionally in all sports? Of course, that is a reflection of the wider fact that the Commonwealth, as a total system covering almost a third of humankind, places absolute gender equality at the very top of its priorities.

My Lords, I thoroughly endorse that. The Commonwealth Games is a great celebration of countries and sport. Interestingly, at the last Winter Olympics, 58% of medallists were women, and 66% of the Sochi Paralympic medallists were women. I have not got the figures for the Commonwealth Games, but I hope that they were equally encouraging.

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Birmingham City Ladies professional football team on their great exploits, in contrast, perhaps, to the men’s team? Coming back to my noble friend’s comments about a level playing field, the Minister will note that the Premier League has concluded an extraordinarily lucrative agreement with the TV companies for the next period of agreement. The Premier League has shown great reluctance in, shall we say, helping other parts of football from that largesse. Would he meet the Premier League to encourage it to give more resources to women’s professional teams?

My Lords, I would be very pleased to arrange such a meeting. But it is important to say that the Chancellor announced a new £50 million package of government money for improvements in grass-roots football. That will include, for instance, further money for new coach educators, which will be important for women. As part of what the government investment is doing, Premier League and Football League clubs are also sharing an ambition for about £200 million of total funding. But I do think that, across a range of subjects, professional football could do a lot better for women and some spectators.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that it is probably the right day to congratulate the England women’s cricket team? It is probably best not to mention the men’s cricket team, save only to wish them well on Monday.

My Lords, I certainly wish them extremely well. The women’s cricket team are currently ranked second; they won the last two Ashes, so they are a great team. Increasing sponsorship is also an important part of how we raise the profile of women’s sport. Kia Motors has sponsored women’s cricket, which is an example of what we need to do. Newton Investment Management is going to sponsor the women’s boat race. Some very important innovations are coming forward.

My noble friend the Minister will know that the English women’s football team beat Finland 3-1 last night, yet if you look at the sports pages of our national newspapers, you will find no mention of it in the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Express or the Mirror. There was a tiny piece in the Guardian and a tiny piece in the Independent. If you look at the sports pages on a daily basis, hardly ever will you find a mention of women’s sport. For women to be empowered in sport, they need to have coverage. Will the Minister agree perhaps either to write to or meet our newspaper editors to suggest that they cover women’s sports?

My noble friend makes a very important point. Improving the media profile of women’s sports is one of the five key goals of the Women and Sport Advisory Board, set up by the Government. The broadcasting companies—BT Sport, BBC Sport and Sky Sport—are getting much better, but I certainly think that the broadsheet newspapers need to up their game.