It is widely acknowledged that one of the major health issues facing the UK is the decline in physical activity by the population, leading to a rise in obesity and associated conditions. Physical activity also promotes mental well-being, and both participation in and viewing of sport are important parts of the UK’s culture. It was widely hoped that the London Olympics and Paralympics would renew interest in participation in sport, leading to a growth in activity at the grass roots and encouraging the more talented to aspire to competing at an elite level.
Although the reasons for participating in sport apply equally to men and women, there remain stark differences between men’s sport and women’s sport. At the elite level, women’s sport gains much less sponsorship and media coverage, and prize money is lower; at the grassroots level, participation by women is significantly lower than by men. We therefore decided to launch an inquiry into the barriers to women’s participation in sport and how to overcome these. In particular, we focused on:
- The availability of facilities for training and playing sport, for both girls and women, at elite and grassroots levels;
- finance, including sponsorship and prize money;
- media coverage of women’s sport; and
- the variety of sports on offer to girls at school.
We later added to this the importance of female role models, as elite sportswomen, coaches and managers.
During the course of our inquiry, there were frequent reminders that men’s sport is accorded a higher status than women’s, ranging from the comparatively unreported triumphs of women footballers to the extensive commentary on the make-up worn by some athletes at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, with a particularly unpleasant example of prejudice in the abuse on Twitter of the Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle.
House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee. First Report of Session 2014–15.