Tuesday, May 22, 2012

#sportwalesconf: Women and Girls

As part of our Sport Wales Annual Conference 2012 guest panelist and Welsh Netball CEO, Mike Fatkin, gives his views on engaging more women and girls in sport. What's your view? Join the #sportwalesconf discussion and share your opinion with @sport_wales on Twitter.

As a National Governing Body (NGB) CEO I am regularly sent surveys and reports.  Many of these are just number-crunching, and a number of them mean diddly squat, frankly, but I do find myself reading anything which discusses the status of women’s and girls’ sport.

I start with a mix of interest and enthusiasm, but this is more often than not followed by brow-furrowing and feelings of frustration.

There are a lot of ‘big statements’ out there. I also think there’s a reluctance to really want to tackle the issues.

Women’s participation lags way behind men’s. Naturally there are different barriers and challenges.  Having two daughters of my own, I’ve seen some of these, and my experience over the last three years has highlighted many others. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that in the past women have effectively been ‘bundled up’ with other so-called minorities and treated as a 'hard-to-reach' group, requiring strategies based on equality rather than common sense.

When I last looked the global population was, essentially, 50:50 male/female. I’m not too sure many of the strategies we see actually reflect that. This isn’t a minority group we’re talking about. I’m not for a moment advocating any kind of positive discrimination but I’d love to see a more creative approach where sports are rewarded for a clear development plan showing how they are tackling the issue. And why not hit them in the pocket if they don’t?

I believe we will struggle to really promote women’s and girls’ sport without influencing the media.

Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take a Miss Marple to see that it just isn’t important to them. Typically, less than 5% of all sports coverage is devoted to women’s sport. We’ll see a surge around the Olympics, of course, as leading female athletes get their moments in the sun, but you wouldn’t bet your mortgage on that lasting.

No legacy there.

I won’t go over the BBC’s male-only shortlist for the Sports Personality of the Year award, but that, in essence, captures the problem and there was some misogynistic claptrap written and spoken at the time.  Some of the more mouthy media-types argue that their readers/viewers/listeners only want to read about the ‘popular sports.' Maybe. But when you’re flicking through whole supplements with barely a column or two devoted to women in sport it’s just lazy, frankly.

Why not actually take time to focus properly on some of the leading sportswomen? You’re losing readers and, hey, it might even start attracting new ones, who knows?  Give us role models in the media and we can do wonders.

There are obviously barriers women and girls face to being active. I’ve read of research which talks about school sport turning girls off; being active perceived as being ‘unattractive;' an inflexibility in activities offered; a lack of understanding and fitting in with women’s working and home lives; and sport not meeting women’s needs; to add to the media issue.

We’re focusing on that crucial age group of 12 to 16-year-olds. Netball is well covered at primary level but there aren’t sufficient clubs for them to go to in their early secondary years. We are also really keen on looking at innovative ways of drawing girls in and then working hard to retain them. The traditional, predictable routes just aren’t working. It’s likely to be something of a long haul but the potential is massive.

Then there is the fact that sports have historically been run by men. Yes, I know. Netball in Wales is not. I’m well aware of that. But I’d also point out that the ultimate decision-maker in Welsh Netball is the Chair, Catherine Lewis, who is excellent. I’ve come from a male-dominated environment in cricket to a female-dominated environment in netball. Different issues, different profiles, different structures - agreed. But the quality of decision-making in netball is as good, if not better.

I also have a very high regard for the likes of Helen Bushell (Hockey) and Rhian Gibson (Gymnastics) so have no qualms about the quality of female CEO in other sports. And the impact Laura McAllister has had on the thinking within Sport Wales is there for all to see.

There seems to be a lot more talk about the issue than any real effort to go about dealing with it. There are no obvious answers, but let’s be serious about trying to provide them.

Find out more about Welsh Netball and follow @mikefatkin.