'Sexism putting women off sport'

Despite role models like Jessica Ennis, many girls and women are put off participation in sports by boring PE lessons and sexist comments, MPs have said

Despite role models like Jessica Ennis, many girls and women are put off participation in sports by boring PE lessons and sexist comments, MPs have said

First published in National News © by

Low participation in sport by women has serious long-term implications for health and social care, a report by MPs has warned.

Among the factors putting girls and women off playing sports are boring PE lessons at school, "gratuitous derogatory remarks" about female athletes by TV commentators and sexist comments or lack or respect directed at women coaches by players, said the report by the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

The cross-party committee found that in all ethnic communities, age groups and classes, women and girls were less likely to participate in sport and more likely to give it up at an early age than men.

"Women's sport has for too long been seen as an add-on to men's sport, of less interest to both male and female spectators, and even, among some people, as unfeminine," said the report.

"At elite level, there has until recently been a reluctance in the media to cover women's sport, which arguably has dampened potential interest among spectators and possible commercial sponsors, which in turn has led to low interest amongst the media.

"This situation was already changing before the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, but the successes of UK sportswomen in 2012 have given an impetus to the media to cover women's sport. However, more work is needed to entrench the virtuous circle of good media coverage/higher spectator or viewer engagement/greater sponsorship and a more attractive product/greater media interest."

The report said schools should be offering a wider range of sports and fitness activities, with better training for PE teachers and a fairer division of funds between girls' and boys' training facilities and changing rooms.

At an elite level, national governing bodies could do more to attract more media coverage and commercial sponsorship for women's sports by, for example, holding major international matches just before or after the equivalent male fixture or moving them to a time when it is easier for broadcasters to cover them.

And the committee urged national newspapers to publish women's sport results alongside the men's and called on journalists and commentators to "refrain from making gratuitous derogatory remarks about the sportswomen". Media organisations were "missing a comparatively under-developed marketing opportunity" by failing to engage with women's sport, the report said.

The committee said that female coaches made a great difference in encouraging women to take up and persist in sports, but found that would-be coaches were put off not only by low pay and long hours but also by "sexism and lack of respect among both players and fellow coaches".

"If sports governing bodies are serious about encouraging greater participation by women, then they must take action to drive this sort of behaviour out of their sports," said the committee.

The committee backed Sport England's approach of reducing funding to "lacklustre" national governing bodies, and transferring it to others which had shown themselves able to boost participation. And it suggested that in future, some basic low-cost facilities - like pitches, swimming pools and sports halls - should be treated as public health provisions, rather than part of a leisure programme.

More account should be taken of factors which might be putting off women from taking part, such as male lifeguards at women-only swimming sessions or public viewing galleries overlooking sports halls.

Committee chairman John Whittingdale said: "Sport still has too male an image, and it will require efforts from sport governing bodies, the media, schools and government departments and agencies to encourage us all to view sporting activity as a normal activity for women, which should be encouraged and facilitated.

"Good habits are learnt early, and it is a sad fact that many girls are put off sport by school games lessons. Many of our recommendations therefore are aimed at increasing the variety of sports on offer, and making it easier for girls and women to participate in locally available, affordable activities adapted to their lifestyles."

Launching a Labour consultation on encouraging participation in sports, shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman said: "Despite it being the 21st century - where women are not prepared to be second class citizens and we have amazing sporting icons like Jessica Ennis and Tanni Grey-Thompson - we are very far from equality in sport.

"The DCMS Select Committee have done invaluable work and we welcome their findings, particularly on setting targets, monitoring and reporting on girls and boys participation in school sports, ensuring PE staff are equipped to teach girls as well as boys and ensuring that publicly funded National Governing Bodies support women in their sport and include more on their boards."

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: " The Government is completely committed to strengthening women's sport. There are 6.84 million women playing sport every week - 500,000 more than in 2010, with a record amount of 16-25 year olds participating.

"Sport England is investing over £1 billion of public money into improving grassroots sport with a number of initiatives specifically targeted at women. This includes setting up over 300 girls-only after school sport clubs across the country and plans for a major national campaign to promote women's sport.

"We welcome the Select Committee's contribution on this issue and will respond fully in due course."

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