Why sporting equity fund won’t solve all issues for female athletes

Attitude change and co-operation vital says SWIS's Maureen McGonigle

FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s recent announcement that she had created a £300,000 Sporting Equity Fund was welcome news.

It didn’t go unnoticed that it was delivered on the eve of the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Open at their inaugural Female Leadership in Business and Sport forum, following the long-awaited vote from Troon Golf club welcoming female members.

Good news indeed that the issue of sporting equity has been identified, but let’s not run away with ourselves. This money will not solve all the issues that currently permeate the female sporting landscape, but it will allow us to identify and plan on the areas of priority that it is believed can, and will, return the best results.

Given that This Girl Can, an extremely successful multi-partnered campaign supported by Sport England to increase female participation in sport, cost an estimated £10 million, you can begin to understand the scale of the challenge and the need for good Scottish thrift and ingenuity to be put to the test here.

Where do we start? What needs to change? And how can we ensure that we get maximum benefit from this fund?

Let’s be honest here, a change in attitude is absolutely free, it costs nothing, and that, for me, would deliver the biggest change and would go far to resolving the many issues surrounding girls and women’s participation in many areas of sport.

For each and every women and girl to be given the opportunity to participate in sport, without fear or judgement or scorn from others, either male or female, is a game-changer. And for those that chose to take their sport to the elite level, creating an environment where they are afforded the same support system, balanced media coverage and equal recognition and reward for their achievements, would be just wonderful.

This Girl Can carried out research to ascertain the issues that kept women from participating in any form of exercise. Results clearly identified that many women are afraid to exercise because of a fear of being judged by others.  This fear was not just about the way they looked, but it was also on the criticism they received on how they choose to spend their free time.  It’s a sad fact that a whopping 75 per cent cited that they did want to be active, but the fear they held was so strong that it stopped them from taking that first step, which would, without doubt, inevitably lead them towards a healthier lifestyle.

So how do we change this? That is the million dollar question. Where is the best place for this money to be invested in to gain the maximum impact and change attitudes and increase participation? It is fair to say that we will have to look at the overall picture and make some tough decisions on who is best placed to ensure that this investment will make a difference. I feel that we will need to ensure that we identify and work in just a few key areas, to maximise impact, and focus in the main, on the areas that we feel will bring change to everyone in sport and create the forever quoted level playing field’.

I understand that there will be many stakeholders who will be keen to have their voice heard and put forward a case for their specific sport, however I think we have to have a multi-partnership approach here. This is not the time for individual sports to raise their heads and stand alone. This is the time for joined up thinking and a strong partnership approach to solving the problem.

This is an exciting time for women in sport, not just in Scotland but throughout the world. Change is definitely in motion. Let’s all work together and for more. It just makes sense.

Maureen McGonigle is the founder of the charity Scottish Women in Sport. For further information go to www.scottishwomeninsport.co.uk