Tammy Parlour, co-founder of the Women’s Sports Trust, made a bold statement at the #BeAGameChanger Awards to the effect that women’s sport could just be the biggest growth sector for sport. The sports and broadcasters are aware that despite record-breaking crowds at elite events, more people need to be encouraged to turn up and support. So the #ShowUp initiative was born. The Mixed Zone’s Emily Victoria meets three of the campaign’s ambassadors to talk about their hopes for the future
After settling down in a busy hallway at Sky Sport’s headquarters and creating a makeshift studio with cameras and mics, three world-class athletes huddled together on a gray sofa talking passionately about their sports.
Amy Jones brought up the importance of the sports hub at Loughborough University near where many of her fellow members of the England cricket team live. It turned out that Sasha Corbin, the England netball player, and recently retired England rugby full-back Danielle Waterman, had both used the facilities there many times for fitness training during their careers. That gave the three a starting point from which they could relate to each other.
They were united from their disparate sporting backgrounds by the joint Sky-Women’s Sport Trust #ShowUp campaign aimed at encouraging support of women in sport by watching, attending or indeed playing this summer.
Above all, Jones, Corbin and Waterman want to see progress. “I want to talk to someone and say, ‘Did you know what happened with the transfer in the netball season?’ ‘Did you hear about that result?’” says Corbin. “For me that’s really important. More people talking about it on the streets would be huge.”
So perhaps, then, this illustrates what Tammy Parlour was saying about now being the time to invest in women’s sport. Viewing figures, when women’s sport makes it on to the screen, have been breaking ratings records. With the support of athletes, broadcasters and investors, it could continue to grow and reach more of its target audience.
Waterman still thinks more needs to be done, though. She said: “I think the only challenge that we face with female sport is just the opportunity and exposure. Whether that be with viewing figures through the media, or through spectators, that’s what this campaign is about. It’s about shouting about women’s sport. Showcasing how amazing we are at the elite level, but at the same time engaging with young girls and boys at the grass-roots.
“In netball, in cricket, in rugby – in all sorts of sports. Showing the opportunity is not just about participating, but it might be about going into officiating, about going into broadcasting. It’s about getting more females involved in sport at every single level.”
Waterman is proud and honored to have retired on her own terms while at the top of her game. Now she wants to focus more of her time on growing the game, and women’s sport in general. She wants to engage with media and feels there should be many more female pundits.
She explains: “I’m excited about all the next opportunities. I’m really looking forward to engaging with more media. I think having more female pundits, in whatever sport, not just talking about female sport, but also male sport [will be great]. [It’s about] showcasing not just the ability physically on the field, but also technically, tactically analysing and pulling apart the sport in the same way you regularly see males doing.”
The objectives for these campaign ambassadors are about more participation, new role models and more media-engagement. It is about growth. It is no longer about fighting off stereotypes suggesting women’s sport is less entertaining, women are less athletic or women being too muscly as athletes. Those sorts of views are old hat and now belong to the minority.
Jones said: “I definitely think the stereotypes are fading into the past. I think there’s obviously a lot more athletic role models out there that girls can look up to, and it definitely has become more normal.”
Waterman added: “I think most people champion the success of female sport. You can see it in terms of social media engagement, and people in the media, whether it be written press or on TV, shouting about the success and celebrating it with us.
“It’s the responsibility of everybody involved to push it forward. I don’t think there are many negative comments, and if they are they’re very archaic. They’re not very current. It’s about celebrating everybody, whether it be male or female, at all different levels of the game.”
Getting people involved will not only help female sports flourish. The impact on health, concentration and confidence can help change people’s lives and improve family engagement. Jones says: “The effects sport can have on young girls are positive. There are so many massive benefits – obviously physically, with health, but also mentally. Confidence, self-esteem and teamwork – being part of something a bit bigger is fantastic. That’s obviously what we all get out of it and that’s what we want to see – for young girls to take it up as well.”
Corbin chips in: “I think, for me, I just know that it’s always important to have health and fitness at the forefront of things. Young people, families and everyone getting involved and being role models for everyone within their circle is a huge part of that.”
However, Waterman says for women’s sports to really survive and thrive, participation for health and enjoyment reasons are only part of the picture. Corbin and Jones nodded vigorously in agreement as Waterman says: “It isn’t just about the participation. It’s also about recognising the people who are behind the scenes, making it possible. All the volunteers who give up their time to allow us to be able to join in with the sport that we love. I wouldn’t have been able to play rugby if it hadn’t have been for the volunteers in my local club. And I’m sure the same for you guys.” More nods of agreement.
The three ambassadors for the #ShowUp initiative round off their natter on the sofa by explaining the very reasons they are lobbying for their sports. They talked about how great it is to have a career in sport, how much fun it is and how much they know others can love it as much as they do – if they just try it.
Corbin explains: “We’re all passionate about the sport we take part in. We all have that passion, drive and determination to be the best, not just as a team but as individuals.”
Jones adds: “Obviously, as players, we love to play in front of full crowds. Up the ante a bit. If girls and boys can come and watch, get a feel of what it’s like, then hopefully they’ll want to have a go themselves.”
Waterman finishes by saying: “I think meeting everybody today, you can feel the energy from all the athletes and it’s fantastic. You can see how much enjoyment everybody’s got and how much passion they have about being part of this campaign and promoting the amazing things we’re part of.
“I would love so many young girls to be like the women I’ve met today. They’re superb role models, so inspirational. I’m inspired by meeting the women, so I think definitely we’ve got lot in common. It’s important to shout about what we’re doing.”
Sky Sports and the Women’s Sport Trust have joined forces to encourage everyone to show up and support women in sport by watching, attending or playing this summer. Be a part of the campaign by sharing your experiences of women’s sport on social media using #ShowUp
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Victoria is a freelance sports broadcaster with a passion for women’s sports. She recently moved back from Dubai after a stint working for topical radio station Dubai Eye. Most recently she has worked with Haymarket Media. Emily is currently doing an MA in Sports Journalism, and in her spare time is producing a documentary about sport in prison – shooting the whole film using her phone. You can find Emily cheering on AFC Bournemouth, taking games on the netball court far too seriously or knocking around a football with her young son, Jude. Emily’s latest articles.