Thursday, March 8, 2012


Today is International Women's Day 2012 and, in our latest blog, Sport Wales Chair Laura McAllister talks about the commitment to increasing the number of women and girls taking part in sport.

This blog first appeared as a guest blog for the Bevan Foundation.
Laura McAllister
Women and girls in sport is a topic of huge importance to us at Sport Wales. Our role is to promote sport and activity for all people in Wales – boys and girls, men and women.

However, we know from our research that more men (62%) take part in sport than women (51%)*; participation in pure sports clubs is male dominated (22% of male population and 11% female)*; and that a drop-off in participation in sport by school pupils is more acutely felt by girls (in Year 10, 52% of boys participate in organised activity at least once a week compared to 44% of girls).

I am simply not happy to accept this as a status quo. I do not believe that girls have less desire to take part or display lower levels of interest in sport. Our own School Sport Survey shows there is virtually no gender gap in extracurricular or club sport participation levels among primary school pupils, but that this increases as pupils move through secondary school.

When Sport Wales launched a new Vision for Sport in Wales in 2011, these were some of the issues that were highlighted as priorities to address – and address quickly.

What we would all like to see is for sport to become another arena in which women and girls can eventually claim to have a level footing and every opportunity to excel at all levels.

We are working hard, with our partners across the board, to ensure that young girls are getting hooked on sport for life and to address the drop off in participation beyond the age of 15 in particular. And I have made it clear that any of our funded partners who are not addressing these issues will need to face the consequences.

Inspirational Welsh athletes, such as swimmers Jazmin Carlin, Jemma Lowe and Georgia Davies, Sara Head (table tennis), Becky James (cycling) and Gwennan Harries (football), are increasingly more visible to young female audiences and are vital role models for our next generation of professional and amateur sportswomen.

Swimmer Georgia Davies - recently qualified for London 2012

We also have female athletes who, despite retirement, have continued to inspire, such as Tanni Grey-Thompson and Michaela Breeze.

We urgently need to see more women in leadership roles at the highest levels of sport in Wales. It is no secret that women are severely underrepresented in the boardrooms of sport’s major bodies, globally, nationally and here in Wales.

Sport Wales is literally about levelling the playing field and is working with women employed in Welsh sport to help them achieve senior positions.

We have targeted 26 women and are providing them with training, support and mentoring. The mentoring scheme matches women in influential roles in Wales, including Vivian Sugar, Chair of Consumer Focus Wales and Pro Chancellor of Swansea University, and Clare Clancy, Chief Executive and Clerk of the Assembly National Assembly for Wales. A female perspective in management and decision-making is not only more democratic but allows different skills and experience to be brought to the process of sport.

Young Ambassadors making a difference across Wales
We must also not forget the role that peer influencing can play. Our Young Ambassador programme has a number of very impressive young women involved, who are not only passionate about sport, but look to approach their peers in different ways in order to engage them. We need to harness not only our elite athletes as role models but young women and girls who are also passionate about sport.

We have seen a notable increase in girls taking part in extra-curricular sport in recent years, but the number of girls taking part in sport on three or more occasions per week has remained low.

We must continue our efforts to support more girls to discover their potential through sport. Three factors seem key in keeping girls in sport: variety, fun and sociability. The challenge is for everyone to use these and bring different ideas to the table.

I was as disappointed as anyone by the lack of any females on the UK-wide BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist.  In Wales, the five BBC Wales nominees included five world champions – one of which was triathlete Helen Jenkins. Helen’s achievements sat easily alongside the other candidates and it was a chance for us to highlight through the media and other platforms the value we place on females in sport.

In fact, in terms of where we’re at with women’s sport, it’s probably as strong as it’s ever been.
Sport Wales has an important role to play but we cannot get to where we want to be by working in isolation. We need the support of those in education, health and other sectors. By support I mean a whole range of things, such as finance, knowledge, time, resources, partnerships and most importantly a commitment to the importance of sport and physical activity.

Sport can do so much for Welsh women and girls, but they have much to give back to sport as well. We only have to look at the recent debates about women in the boardroom of FTSE 100 companies when the Prime Minister has pointed out that, according to research by Catalyst, firms with the most women on their boards outperform those with the fewest on sales by 42 per cent. We want to see women represented throughout sport in Wales, bringing their experience and knowledge to help us achieve our aspirations.

Triathlete and London 2012 hopeful Helen Jenkins
As we build up to London 2012 and the biggest ever opportunity to inspire people to take part in sport, it is up to everyone to grasp the opportunity to make a lasting change at all levels of participation. What a legacy it would be if we could look back on these Games and say this is when we turned the corner and inspired a generation of girls to participate in sport.

I am proud of the women and girls involved in Welsh sport and want to build on their success and commitment so that we have a legacy of participants, leaders and elite performers. I will not be happy until we encourage more women and girls into every area of Welsh sport and that opportunities are consistently available to participate, perform and work professionally.

*2008-09 Active Adults Survey

Laura McAllister is also Professor of Governance at the University of Liverpool’s School of Management. A former Wales football international and national team captain with 24 caps, Laura is currently Chair of Sport Wales. Laura is also Board Member of UK Sport, the Welsh Football Trust and Stonewall UK.