Florence Lloyd-Hughes, Women in Sport’s Campaigns and Communications Officer, looks at how the Women’s Hockey World Cup has put women at the forefront of a major sports event in the UK.
Over the last 10 years, the UK has hosted a handful of major international women’s sports events: the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup; the 2017 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup; and a few Uefa Women’s Champions League finals.
In 2019, Liverpool will play host to the Netball World Cup, while golf’s Solheim Cup will be held at Gleneagles in Scotland.
Outside of these events, there haven’t been many opportunities for British women to shine as athletes on a home stage, on a platform that isn’t shared with men.
London’s great summer of athletics in 2012 and 2017 were memorable and created household names of Jessica Ennis-Hill and Dina Asher-Smith, but inevitably men often stole the show in media coverage.
This year’s Women’s Hockey World Cup, coming off the back of a summer of men’s football, was a unique standalone event on home soil.
At this tournament, the focus was only on women, with the home side and a captivating Irish team drawing most the attention.
Only a few members of the gold-medal winning Great Britain team from Rio were present this time around, however, expectations were still high.
Taking place at the beginning of the school holidays, the tournament was perfectly placed to draw hordes of families. Tickets were also reasonably priced for most games not involving the hosts.
This Hockey World Cup has also seen the emergence of a fairy-tale story, with Ireland, the lowest-ranked team in the competition, reaching the final.
Ireland’s magical tournament eventually came to an end when they were defeated 6-0 by powerhouses the Netherlands last night.
During Women in Sport’s visit to the Lee Valley Hockey Centre at the Olympic Park, to watch India, Ireland, Spain and South Africa, it was clear that lots of non-hockey fans had turned up to sample some of the action and soak up some of the atmosphere.
Britain is now home to millions of casual sports fans. Individuals who will turn up and tune in to any major event just to be able to say, “I was there”. That is what drives the queue at Wimbledon and sold out the Women’s Cricket World Cup final at Lord’s
The difficulty that lots of sports have faced, notably women’s sports, is transferring these one-off experienced-focused attendees into long-term fans, those that will turn up and watch a domestic game in the pouring rain.
A notable takeaway from the Hockey World Cup has been the presence of men and boys in the crowd and the positive affect this has on normalising women’s sport. Women’s sport is unlikely to receive equal media coverage or commercial investment unless men are championing it too, albeit there are already lots that do.
In terms of visibility, this year’s Hockey World Cup has received sporadic attention from the media.
Live television broadcasts were available on pay-TV’s BT Sport, while the BBC provided highlights and radio coverage, however, putting live games behind pay-package means that lots of fans missed out.
As the summer of sport continues with the European Championships in Glasgow and Berlin, the spotlight should continue to shine on some great female athletes. Long may this continue – the more visible women’s sport is, both in the media and at live events, the more sport will be seen as normal and aspirational for women and girls.