On International Women’s Day, we ask a group of top female athletes what women’s sport has been like over the past five years, what changes they want to see by 2025, and how to keep young girls active.
Perception and professionalism are two fundamental achievements of some of our athletes over the past five years. But what about the future of women’s sports? What needs to be done or changed to continue the development of women’s sports?
England and Manchester City captain Steph Houghton, WBO welterweight champion Natasha Jonas, England cricket captain Heather Knight, England rugby captain Sarah Hunter, No. 2 British tennis player Heather Watson and two-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick reflect on evolution of your own sport and determine what needs to happen to sustain the development.
And with a recent Women in Sports report indicating that more than a million girls who considered themselves athletic in elementary school lose interest in physical activity during adolescence, what message could our top female athletes send to those girls who are considering leaving the sport? ?
What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in women’s sports in the last five years?
Steph Houghton: The biggest change has probably been in the perception of women’s sports in general. I think people now see us all as athletes and people who are trying to excel in their sport and compete, not for their gender.
Natasha Yonas: Thanks to the support of major platforms, companies and a change in attitude towards women’s sports at all levels, there have been positive changes for the better. It shows, it’s approved, and the fans/viewers come back and support it. The governing bodies are doing an incredible job to stay relevant and aware of the need for change. Women (and in men’s sports, men) support, encourage, motivate, empower, promote and celebrate each other.
Heather Knight: I think the perception of women in sports in general has changed a lot. Now people accept it better, it’s more normalized. It’s definitely more professional, which I think contributed to this shift in perception.
Sara Hunter: Probably the biggest change I’ve seen is professionalism. We are seeing more and more women in sports getting paid to play sports they used to do for free. This is what I experienced first hand. I’ve been playing for England since 2007, but it wasn’t until 2019 that I got my first full professional contract. Young girls who play sports can now think, “I can be a professional athlete when I grow up,” which has always been the case with boys, and now with girls.
Heather Watson: I feel like team sports have become a lot more popular and that’s great to see because most of us start with team sports when we’re younger. You see a lot more advertising for sports like women’s basketball and soccer in their leagues and in the media, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Jamie Chadwick: I would say the biggest change I have seen is the number of major brands and sponsored partners involved in women’s sports. The biggest one is that Visa has invested as much in the men’s world title partnership as it has in the women’s partnership.
What would you like to change in women’s sports by 2025?
Houghton: The only thing I would like to see in all sports is more fans coming to watch all sports live. We need a wider audience to make our sport more sustainable.
And she: Fairer pay scales, continued support for growth and development, inclusion of women in board and leadership positions, and increased media coverage.
Knight: I would like to see a lot more media coverage outside of major events. At the moment it’s less than 10%, especially in the print media, and in order to bring about this change, I think more media coverage and events other than the World Cups and the Games are needed.
Hunter: I would like women’s sport to be on par with men’s so that we can stop talking about change or what else needs to be done to support women’s sport. We would have equal visibility on television and in the media. Commercial sponsors will invest in teams, sports, individuals and competitions just as they do in men’s sports, and we have built fan bases that will sell games, matches and events.
Watson: I have the opportunity to play tennis, which has always paved the way for women’s sports. However, despite this, and even in tennis, we still do not see the same level of coverage of women’s sports as men’s. Sports have always been considered a predominantly male activity, which is why I would like more than anything to see women’s sports enjoy the same respect as men’s.
Chadwick: I would still like to see higher participation rates – more girls participating in sports at the grassroots level and more participation at a young age.
How do you make sure that young girls do not quit sports, and what would you like to say to those girls who leave sports?
Houghton: If we can continue to promote the health, self-esteem and relationship benefits of young girls who are active and play sports, whether in schools or clubs, we will be more likely to keep girls in sports.
We have the chance to be role models in many different live sports to showcase this, and the more visible we are, the more opportunities for girls to take this path in the future.
And she: Make a wider range of sports more accessible by removing as many barriers as possible. I don’t know how we do it. Celebrate grassroots sports and give them a wider platform, encourage a positive body image that is actively funded and promoted, highlighting all the different shapes, sizes and body types in sports.
There are sports for everyone, any level you want. The fun part is trying as many as you can and finding the one that works for you.
Knight: I think a lot of girls leave because other things are happening and because young girls get embarrassed sometimes. Sometimes playing sports is not something you should be doing as a teenager, so the more we can change the perception and do something a little different to make the girls feel involved and maybe keep them with a group of friends. [is important]. If girls leave sports, I would ask why and what can we do to put together friendship groups and help girls to be active.
Hunter: I think we need to make sports fun, varied and accessible for girls so they don’t drop out of school as teenagers. We need to make sports attractive and “cool” so that girls want to continue doing it. We need to engage and bring sport to life through the way young people interact with each other. For example, how do platforms like Tik Tok encourage girls to keep exercising? We need to think outside the box about how we have tried to keep young girls in sports in the past.
I want to tell the girls who are leaving the sport to stay and keep playing. You started playing sports because you liked it; try to give him another chance to repay you and make you understand why you started playing him in the first place. This will be the best decision you will make. You could be the next Olympic or world champion, you could turn the sport you played as a hobby into a full-time professional job, you could travel the world doing what you love, but above all, you will meet great people and make friends. because life and sport will help guide you and develop you as a person in a way that nothing else can.
Watson: I think the most important thing is to encourage young girls to think that sports are fun, social and part of a healthy lifestyle. Sport is so great and can provide so many valuable opportunities and experiences that will benefit you greatly in the future – I’ve been lucky enough to have a career in sports, but there are so many other health, community and well-being benefits. what sport can bring to everyone. Definitely say take it – you will not regret it!
Chadwick: I would say it’s important to have positive role models that bring more attention to women’s sports and more media attention to show the accessibility of the sport. We must also inspire girls to continue to develop in sports. It’s an old cliché, but “you should see this.” If you love doing it and you have the ability to do it, then don’t let anything put you off because there are so many other opportunities in sports at all levels besides just being a sports player. There are many opportunities in sports – now more than ever.