Why men and women together need to support Women’s Sport Week, and the next 51.
Female athletes. An inconceivable idea in years gone by, yet now women are respected as athletes, and more women have the opportunity to show their potential on the global sports stage. In rowing, our female athletes are on the world stage with the same access to funding and have the same media profile as the men, largely thanks to the amazing support of the public in buying their National Lottery tickets. We are lucky that the highest prize in rowing, an Olympic Medal, receives the same recognition whether won by a male or female crew. But we can’t and must not stop there, we need to scratch beneath the surface and ensure that future generations of women in every sport start on a completely level playing field with their male peers. Of course it’s not easy, or cheap, to increase the level of resource, and enhance media coverage to match what men’s sport has: this is no mere gap: it’s a different universe. One which I am willing to challenge.
If we don’t place the same value on women’s sports events and successes as we do on men’s, my daughter will never have the same opportunities as her brothers; nor your daughters, granddaughters or nieces.
This is not just about opportunities in the sporting arena, nor just about health and fitness. This is about young women’s expectations and understanding of their role in the workplace and in society. It is about the boys who become young men define and see women’s roles alongside theirs in the workplace, the home and the local community. It’s why we need male advocates for women’s sport too, as it is not just about girls winning National Schools Regatta, County Football Championships or a school swimming gala; not even about women’s medals at the Olympics.
If we bring girls up thinking that second best is okay: that having the cast-off equipment or the part-time assistant coach rather than the head coach is normal; that it’s okay women’s sport is not given prime time viewing; that it is normal for female players to have lower pay, or smaller trophies: then we can and will create an expectation that lasts into adult life. We will deprive these future female workers of the skills that sport gives to young people – that create not just healthy lifestyles but successful, affluent business leaders, and this will perpetuate the inequality that exists through so many sectors.
The fantastic response to the move of the Women’s Boat Race to the same course as the men’s race has convinced me that there is a will to change the way sport works and help normalise sport for women – and women’s sport. It will require doing things differently which is not always easy, but it will enhance and strengthen British sport for everyone.
The research is unquestionable: sport is good for the individual; it’s good for community cohesion, it’s good for business and for the future economy. It builds confidence, respect, resilience and leadership in individuals and gives them the strength to be the best version of themselves both mentally and physically. These skills will then seep into our businesses to help strengthen the weakest, to bring along the team, to lead from the front and by example.
If we want women to be part of the leadership for our organisations, businesses and society future generations of women need to have the same chances in life as their male counterparts to develop the skills that competitive sport teaches. Women from sporting backgrounds, like Tanni Grey-Thomson, have shown how transferable these skills have been in optimising their own careers.
So why would we not equip our daughters for the future as we do our sons? We mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, male and female, all have a duty to promote women’s sport, to help strengthen our local communities, to teach the adults of tomorrow to be good citizens, respectful neighbours, resilient business leaders and confident parents.
British sporting success needs all the talent it can find. There is an insatiable appetite for success in sport in this country, why would we not want to encourage and support future sporting champions from the whole population, not just half of it, and have a happier, healthier and wealthier population for our country, 52 weeks of the year. So what can you do to start making this change during Women’s Sport Week and beyond? Share your thoughts with me @PhelpsAnnamarie
Annamarie Phelps, Chairman British Rowing, Vice-Chair British Paralympic Association, Olympian, World Champion