My Lords, the Government share the nation’s pride in the Lionesses’ recent success, which represents the most successful World Cup result by an England side since 1966. The Minister for Sport attended England’s semi-final in Canada and we are now considering how the Government can best mark the success of the England women’s football team.
I thank the noble Earl for that reply. Will he pass some comment on the tweet from the FA when it considered that the returning team could,
“go back to being mothers, partners and daughters”?
Does not this rather patronising attitude belong in 1966? Could the noble Earl—who is my friend—comment on how much damage that did to any potential celebrations?
Yes, I agree with the noble Lord. I will not comment on the ill-judged tweet but with record attendance and viewing figures, this latest Women’s World Cup can leave us in no doubt as to the growing significance of the women’s game. It is vital that we hold the players in the same esteem as that afforded to the men’s side.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the best way we can celebrate the success of the England women’s football team—the third best team in the world—is for Government, the Football Association and above all the British Olympic Association to work together to send a women’s football team as part of Team GB to Rio 2016? In the same way, when I was chairman of the British Olympic Association we relentlessly campaigned—successfully—for women’s football in London 2012. Does my noble friend not agree that what was right for women’s football in London 2012 is right in 2016 and beyond?
My noble friend is quite right that it should be. However, the fact is that there will not be a women’s football team representing Great Britain at the Rio Olympics in 2016. As I have said, that is very disappointing. The English FA lobbied for this but the other home nations were not in favour.
My Lords, I join the Minister in congratulating the women’s team. Its success vindicates those who fought very hard to see it properly funded and to make us accept that football is not, as many used to say, simply a man’s game. In my view, that success is not dimmed in any way because it ended in an own goal. I have scored a few of those on football pitches—and even more in here.
There have been a significant number of MBEs and other awards to successful men’s teams but very few to women’s sport, particularly in football. Will the Government look at whether we should reflect on the success in that way? Could the Government encourage the FA to include more than a couple of women on a rather tokenistic basis among the 100-plus men on the Football Association council?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, posed two questions. The first concerned honours. Since 2012, there have been much improved figures for honours for women generally in sport but it is still up to the public to make nominations, particularly for those at grass-roots level. The noble Lord also mentioned women on sports bodies and mentioned the FA in particular. We need to ensure that our sporting organisations are diverse and represent a range of views based on different backgrounds and experience. There is a goal that all national governing bodies will have 25% of their boards made up of women by 2017. Around half of them are already achieving that goal.
My Lords, does the Minister welcome, as I do, the fact that five of the squad were from the north-east? One of the reasons that football is at the centre of our culture for men, women, girls and boys is the historic strength of the grass-roots game. That is enormously under threat at the moment. Some noble Lords will know of the real power historically of Crook Town, for example. It is under enormous threat because of lack of money and support. Will the Government do what they can to persuade the Premier League to devolve more of its vast profit to grass roots so that many more girls and women can make this country proud?
My Lords, I am sure that the FA Premier League and my right honourable friend in the department will be taking a close interest in what has been said here. There are now 100,000 women regularly playing football, and we must not forget that this year, for the first time, the women’s FA cup final on 1 August will be played at Wembley.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the key ways of celebrating success would be to see greater participation by women in all sports? Assuming he does, what are the Government going to do to address the problem that only about 31% of women regularly participate in sport, whereas the figure for men is 41%, and the proportion of women taking part in sport once a week has fallen year on year since 2011-12, with 275,000 fewer women participating?
There are many role models who women taking part in sport can look up to. In this House there are the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Heyhoe Flint. We have to encourage as many women as possible to take part in sport. We have a number of great events coming up over the next few months, such as the Ashes for the women’s team and the netball world cup. Rowing, too, is a great success story: 26% of people rowing are women, and the biggest increase in the number of people taking part in rowing has been in women.