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Empowering the future of sport

Individuals from across the sports and gender equality sector came to the Museum of London for Women in Sport’s Empower conference last month. Here are some of the highlights.

Judy Murray can Can Can

The Scottish tennis legend uplifted delegates with her early morning ‘This Girl Can Can’ and spoke honestly about her experiences as a mother and a coach.

Judy’s honest and straight-talking approach wasn’t wasted on the audience who were captivated by her stories of being dismissed by various organisations and individuals because she was a woman.

A Trailblazers’ journey is never finished

The second session of the day featured women who had all blazed a trail in their various fields. Our chair Gemma Cairney led the discussion with Anoushé Husain, Sophie Christiansen, Ruqsana Begum and Eleanor Oldroyd.

These women spoke about the barriers that stood in their way, how they knocked them down and what is still left to challenge.

Para-climber Anoushé  inspired us all with her philosophy of ‘at least I tried’ which underlines everything she does. Elly Oldroyd, an experienced sports broadcaster, added her own wisdom: “Barriers are like slalom poles, sometimes we can just push them aside.”

From left: Stephen Lyle, Dame Sarah Storey, Anna-Karin Waenerlund and Catherine Mayer

Where are all the women?

The Empower conference provided an opportunity for Women in Sport to launch its latest joint research on the visibility of women’s sport alongside European partners FOPSIM (Malta), Girls in Sport (Sweden), EILD (Greece) and West University Timisoara (Romania).

Thanks to funding from the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme, this project found some damning statistics on the amount of media coverage women’s sport is receiving across the continent.

In four of the five countries studied, women’s sport coverage failed to achieve above 10% of all sport’s coverage in any single monitoring period. It is at its lowest in Malta and Greece, where it failed to achieve more than 2% of the total coverage in either period. In Sweden and the UK, the picture was marginally better, but still variable and only achieved between 3%- 6% (Sweden) and 4%-10% (UK). Romania had the highest and most consistent coverage, peaking at 14%, but this was heavily driven by tennis champion, Simona Halep, and helped by her celebrity status in the country.

Discussing the research in more detail and making sense of these issues, was Stephen Lyle, Head of Sport at Channel 4, Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, Jennie Price, the former CEO of Sport England, Mike Wragg, Executive Vice-President of, Global Head of Research at Nielsen Sports, and Anna-Karin Waenerlund from Girls in Sport and British Paralympian and Škoda ambassador Dame Sarah Storey.

Price was stark in her assessment of the issue, claiming: “There’s nothing wrong with women, it’s the system around them that’s failing them.”

However, Wragg and Lyle were optimistic, both highlight the huge commercial opportunity that women’s sport provides for the media and sponsors.

After the morning’s frank discussions, delegates moved into smaller groups to workshop specific subjects and topics including ‘Generation Z’, normalising sport for women and girls, and the massive lack of female leaders in sport.

It was then time for Helen Skelton to close the day and send everyone away with an itch to make a difference. The pledge cards that were left behind from our audience showed just what sort of changes our delegates were going to make:

Our thanks to our headline partner Škoda, as well as our sponsors AKQA, Life Health Foods the Telegraph and Sport80, and all the delegates that attended Empower 2018.

We hope that everyone will now join the challenge of creating a society where all women and girls have the opportunity to experience the lifelong benefits of sport.