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Sports need more women leaders

Annie Peate

15 August 2012

New research carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Federation (WSFF) has found that 63% of British adults believe London 2012 has been the best ever Olympics for showcasing women’s athletic achievements. Indeed, these Olympics have been hailed as the closest we’ve ever come to gender parity, a suggestion echoed this week by Shadow Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell. Crucially, this year has also seen the introduction and subsequent gold medals in Women’s boxing and taekwondo – both perceived as traditionally ‘male’ sporting events. We’ve also been handed an impressive role call of female sporting heroines, including Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Jessica Ennis, Jade Jones, Nicola Adams, and a host of others. And it seems we’re not the only ones to welcome women into sport, with Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Quatar sending women to the Olympics for the first time in their nation’s history.

However, with recent press and politicians debating how best to ensure the UK builds on the success of the Olympics, it’s particularly necessary to question how we are to improve and promote opportunities for women in sport, including their access, funding, and sponsorship and coverage. Amongst the WSFF’s recommendations as to how this goal might be achieved is the suggestion that women occupy a significantly higher number of leadership roles in the hope that the way in which they govern and run sport will attract wider audiences. As it stands, only 22% of leadership roles were occupied by women.

This reasoning effectively mirrors that of the government in regards to proactively recruiting more women onto corporate boards. However, in this case the justification for greater inclusion of women on FTSE 100 boards has been the benefits to business, from their ability to understand and meet the desires of a more diverse audience to their alleged pacifying influence on the decisions of a board. I have written before about my slight disappointment around the reliance of the business case in prompting companies to take more notice of women in their workforces; however what the Olympics has cleverly managed is to demonstrate the achievements of women without making them plead their case. They  captured our attention by working away quietly in the background with determined and perseverance. With public opinion as such, there exists no single reason why women’s sport does not deserve greater recognition and justification. Indeed, more women at the top may help achieve this.

I just hope the same can be said for our boardrooms…