WOMEN’S SPORT - A CHANGING NARRATIVE
On Tuesday 11th June, I had the pleasure of hosting an extraordinary group of individuals, each of whom are playing a crucial role in challenging social norms and are shaping the future for women’s sport …
Joanna Adams, Ama Agbeze MBE, Anna Kessel MBE, Georgina Lewis and Nick Read. Our event, titled ‘Women’s Sport – A Changing Narrative’, was designed to move the conversation forward, exploring how its growing profile can continue to challenge the status quo and drive long-term societal change.
For those of us working in the industry, we have felt the momentum growing behind women’s sport for a number of years, and it is with great excitement that we now see this energy breaking into the public sphere. As we find ourselves on the brink of hitting the mainstream, new questions emerge that will define how this next chapter plays out: How will we capitalise on this success? What new challenges will come with being firmly in the public eye? How can we keep investing to ensure this progress is sustained?
Scrutiny is Success
Anna Kessel MBE: “The coverage around the FWWC has been quite ‘kind’ so far – I don’t think we’ll see that in 4 years’ time, which, ironically, is a positive.”
Given the enormity of the challenge in getting to a point where we now see women’s football on primetime TV and written about on the back-pages of newspapers, it is understandable that people are desperate for the bubble not to burst. With this mentality – as Anna points out – can creep a tendency to sugar-coat the shortcomings in the hopes of not jeopardising our hard won progress.
Equality in sport is much more than just the numbers behind the people watching and reading about it; it is also about the way in which we do so. If the Lionesses put on the performance of a lifetime, I want to them to be lavished with every last column-inch of praise that they deserve. By the same token, however, if they turn up looking rusty, unfit or lacking in pride for the shirt, they need to be told exactly how it is. This is not about encouraging the media to criticise our sportswomen in the way they so often do the sportsmen, it is about trusting that, whether male or female, reporting will be done with equality of scrutiny, equality of honesty and, hopefully, equality of respect.
A Brand Awakening
“When we started investing in sport in the UK, it was always as much about the women’s sport as the men’s.”
As the profile only continues to grow, it is natural that more and more brands will begin to recognise the value in aligning with women’s sport. Indeed this Women’s World Cup alone has seen an unprecedented level of activity from major players not only new to the sponsorship of women’s sport, but sponsorship full stop.
The injection of significant sums of money and exposure is of course welcome – and indeed necessary – to continue on this path of growth; however, brands and rightsholders share a vital responsibility in safeguarding the values that have got us to where we are. With more bodies involved in Women’s Sport comes more voices in the conversation, and with more voices comes the risk of either amplifying a strong, shared narrative or simply diluting it with mixed messages. There is no guidebook on how to get this right, but authenticity, as ever, will be the key.
WINNING MEANS MORE THAN TROPHIES
As Joanna rightly points out, winning on the pitch, or court, is only half the battle. To borrow a rather crude adage, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Victory in a major competition, as we have seen with netball, hockey and cricket, buys you a moment in the hearts and minds of fans and media. But it is only that, a moment. Without strategic thought around how strides such as these can be converted into major leaps for the longevity of their respective sports, a huge opportunity for growth will quickly just become another trophy in the cabinet.
Mum’s the Word
Georgina Lewis: “We talk about ‘Dadvocates’ – with fathers traditionally having a bias towards football, but the growth in Mums playing and supporting has been really noticeable.”
From our work with SSE on the Dads & Daughters campaign, we know all too well the important role fathers have to play in championing women’s sport. Georgina is spot-on to point out how mums can be overlooked in this conversation, however.
of girls aged between
meeting the recommended daily activity levels (Sport England)
We are faced with an obesity crisis that feels incongruous with the headlines attached to the flourishing nature of women’s sport on a professional level. Clearly somewhere along the line we still have a disconnect.
Even in the age of social media, young girls consider their mothers to be the number one influencer in their lives, which speaks volumes about the importance of ensuring we speak to, and about, both parents when we talk about sport. And, let’s face it, my daughters didn’t stand a chance in avoiding sport – variety is the name of the game from football to gymnastics to climbing there’s nothing we won’t have a go at. Little did I know that this would see me sucked into football club life.
A NEW CAST OF CELEBRITIES
Ama Agbeze MBE: “Netball in New Zealand is massive – people stop you on the street to talk about your last match. It had never been like this in the UK before we won gold.”
While we are not without our female sporting icons in the UK – think Dame Kelly Holmes, Nicola Adams, Laura Kenny – women’s team sports, in particular, have
historically struggled to wrestle their share of the fanfare from the men. This is why it’s great to hear accounts like this from Ama that show they are finally beginning to get the recognition they deserve. You need only look at the noise around the Lionesses to get an impression of what the future holds.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these insights as much as I enjoyed discussing them. For the full audio recording of the panel, click here.
Frankly, I could go on talking about this subject for hours… So I did. Well, half an hour to be exact. After the panel I caught up with England Netball legend and Commonwealth gold winner, Ama Agbeze MBE, to get under the skin of her experiences as a professional athlete in a growth sport, winning a gold and how she is looking to inspire the next generation of netball stars.
Listen to this here.