Getting more girls and young women active must be a central part of the jigsaw if women’s sport is to continue to grow and thrive, according to players, coaches and administrators.
Sport England says just 43% of girls have the recommended 30 minutes of activity a day, compared with more than half of boys. It has also found a positive association between being active and happiness and individual development.
But the England basketball player Siobhan Prior, a former primary school teacher, said the need to hit academic targets meant that activity was too often pushed to the margins. “There are so many pressures on teachers that if there is a small window for PE, or PHSE for personal growth, it often gets reduced because the focus is on tests,” she said. “It’s one reason why I left teaching.
“But sport isn’t just running around and getting sweaty, or getting skinny and losing calories: it breaks down barriers, helps in life skills, and motivates people to do other things.”
Prior, a director of a basketball academy in Nottingham, stressed that investment in facilities is another vital element in helping to keep teenagers in sport. “A dedicated hub for our club has completely changed the landscape for retaining kids because it also provides a support system for them.”
The Commonwealth boxing champion Stacey Copeland, who works in a Manchester secondary school, called for PE to be a core subject on the curriculum and for girls to have the same sports options as boys. “Many girls also don’t want to do PE in a little pleated skirt and T-shirt,” she said, “so let’s just remove the barriers, help them feel comfortable and put the emphasis on the social aspect of activity.”
Beth Barrett-Wild, who is in charge of the Women’s Hundred, said the England and Wales Cricket Board had recently launched a women and girls action plan to “demonstrate how you can go from being a five-year-old girl picking up a bat and ball for the first time all the way to becoming the next Heather Knight”.
Barrett-Wild said: “I don’t think there’s any point in investing all of your money at the top end without having that really strong investment at the bottom. You’ve got to get girls active and playing the game at all levels.”
Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson urged politicians to back up their promises to get the nation more active. “I hope it doesn’t slip away. It’s our job to keep going back and say: ‘Remember what you said?’”