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BLOG: Time to Level the Playing Field for Women and Girls in Sport

A league winner last season, an England hero this; it has been quite a 12 months for a certain Manchester City defender.

So what have the highlights been for the 23-year-old:

“Beating the Germans, scoring two goals at the World Cup and winning the bronze medal. The whole experience itself was just unbelievable.”

Speaking to Women in Sport on the day she became a Sainsbury’s Active Kids Ambassador – and the first female player to do so – it is clear Lucy Bronze is revelling in her new role, profile and the opportunities she and her teammates are enjoying post-FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015.

“Working with children who’ve seen me at the World Cup is brilliant. Going into schools where girls and boys know who I am and getting the chance to talk to them, being a role model – I love it!

“I don’t see myself as a role model but I know these kids do and I love that they have a female footballer to look up to.”

Lucy doesn’t often label herself as a ‘female footballer’; and why should she? She’s a footballer. Lawyers, doctors, accountants don’t distinguish themselves by gender, so why should footballers – and any other athletes for that matter?

“When I was younger I didn’t realise there was a difference between men’s and women’s football. I was like ‘I’m going to play with them when I’m older’,” admitted the attacking right-back.

That’s not to say she doesn’t value the role women play in sport and the influence they can and do have on the next generation: “For me growing up, a role model in women’s sport was so hard to come by. The only one was Kelly Smith – who just happened to be a footballer and the best player in the world at the time.

“I just want kids now to have a role model – not just the girls but the boys too. The boys can have a female footballer as a role model. Sport needs to be diverse. Sainsbury’s have David Beckham, Daniel Sturridge and now Lucy Bronze too – that’s really important.”

Lucy Bronze with school children at a Sainsbury's Active Kids eventElite female athletes – particularly those in the national football, rugby and cricket teams – have all benefitted from their on-pitch success in recent times; success sparks an interest in more coverage, whether air-time or back-page splashes, and investment soon follows – like that of Sainsbury’s, who are one of the first UK corporate brands to sponsor an individual player from the 2015 Women’s World Cup squad.

Improved visibility of elite female athletes is undoubtedly a positive step in terms of addressing the sizeable equality gaps still to be filled in the sport sector.

At Women in Sport, one of our aims is to ensure visibility of women’s sport remains a top priority and ultimately becomes the norm, which is why we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to help us persuade media to pledge to present sport in a responsible way to girls. We believe publishers of girls’ magazines and digital media have a duty to help make sport normal for them by bringing positive images, messages and role models to their readers.

Making sport an everyday part of a girl’s world could change her perceptions of what she can achieve – something Lucy is ‘100%’ supportive of: “The perception of what women’s sport is and the reality of what it actually is varies massively. In football, I know before the World Cup people would say things like: ‘Women’s football? They can’t even kick a ball you know…’

“People held these pre-conceptions when they hadn’t even watched a game. Now they know it’s as good as watching the men’s game.”

Right now, girls and women are being left on the sidelines of sport from a young age, with 2 million fewer women than men playing sport each week.

Girls become less active from the age of 8; by 14 years old, only 1 in 10 girls meet the official guidelines for physical activity. That means many of our sisters, daughters, grand-daughters and friends are missing out on the numerous physical and mental health benefits that being active brings – something Lucy aims to change through her new role with Sainsbury’s.

But take a look at magazines, adverts and media that cater to girls: where are the sportswomen, the people they can look up to and think ‘yes, me too’? Is it any wonder girls are missing out when sport is practically invisible in their daily lives? Where is the positive portrayal of strong bodies from sport to sit alongside other lifestyle images?

It’s not this way for boys. For most young boys, sport is presented by media as something exciting, aspirational and accessible.

Lucy and her teammates are making great strides towards making sport normal for girls, but it is not just their responsibility – it’s the responsibility of every one of us.

It is time to level the playing field.