Biggar Women's Rugby Team

Scottish Sportswomen Deserve More!

Kaitlin Dryburgh – 4th August 2022

Whether you like football or not, or perhaps you weren’t even supporting England, it was hard to ignore the big win for the Lionesses this weekend past – perhaps even harder to ignore were the records they broke in the process. The Wembley final was the highest attended Euros final ever (men and women), and broke records for the most watched women’s football match.

It was quite a moment, (and by no means am I a football fan or pretend to know the first thing about the game), but it was difficult to not see this win as a win or step forward for all women in the UK. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such wide spread news coverage of a female sportsperson or women’s sports team, or the continuing calls for a boost in funding and recognition of the team.

However, the elation and feeling that equality among sports could be attainable came crashing down quickly the next day when it was announced that the team would not be getting an open-top tour bus or Downing Street reception, despite in previous years the men’s teams in a variety of sports being granted this. Although excuses were quickly established, it didn’t seem that there was any forward planning involved or a thought that national sentiment could be as big as it is, unlike plans put in place for the men’s Euros team in the event that they would win.

Regardless of this, progress is progress, and this win has sparked a conversation about women’s sport, however long winded it may be. In Scotland questions have arisen concerning our women’s football team and how we are investing in women’s sport.

Unfortunately there still remains major differences in the way men’s sport and women’s sport is approached in Scotland, from bottom to top, and encompasses more than just money, although investment is perhaps the biggest catalyst for spurring on expansion. This is not to mention that inequality affects a variety of sports in different ways, male sports people competing in sports such as basketball, golf or tennis can make significantly more than their female counterparts, sometimes 100% more. 

Golf is perhaps one of the most elitist and exclusive sports around and July saw both the men’s and women’s Scottish Opens take place. It was easy to see why golf is one of the most unequal sports: the total prize fund for the men’s toppled $8 million, whereas the women’s was four times lower at $2 million. Figures such as these are not breaking news, however it is disappointing that this is still common. Although tennis has made some strides forward by introducing equal prize money for grand slam events such as Wimbledon, other events still operate at an average of 80% difference. 

Many sports have taken measures to improve and grow women’s access and the professional side, however in several cases I wonder if the investments are enough and if they coming at a fast enough rate? Perhaps they are already on the backfoot – when examining Scottish’s Rugby’s plans for supporting the Women’s World Cup team it certainly comes off that way. A £500,000 funding boost to allow for the women of the world cup team to take leave from their jobs for eleven weeks in the lead up to the tournament is a welcomed announcement. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that Scotland is still the only country out of the six nations to be without a women’s team with centrally contracted players, and this funding doesn’t go far enough to offer the squad full time contracts. This would be unheard of in the men’s team and is rather disappointing considering rugby is one of Scotland’s favourite sports. 

But this doesn’t just apply to the top players, grassroots sports are still riddled with gender inequality. When examining golf again, a sponsorship programme from Scottish Hydro for up-and-coming Scottish golfers openly advertises that it provides four places for men and two for females. Why is that acceptable?

A study conducted after the English team won at the weekend found that there are areas in England where there are almost no opportunities for girls to join a team, as they don’t exist. Overall the study concluded that for every female team there are 40-50 male teams, this is a shameful reality and is very similar to that of Scotland. We will never be successful at the top if we are unable to inspire and capitalise at the bottom.

However, as previously stated it is not only earnings and investment that are holding back the expansion of women’s sport. Issues such as media coverage have a big part to play. Perhaps the chicken and the egg theory can come in here, as many argue that the media will only show what the public want to see, but often showing women’s sport in the media can spark interests and fans in an area they had never been exposed to before. So what should come first the interest or the coverage?

However, I would argue that if you say you’re a football or athletics or rugby fan then you’re a fan of the sport not the sex of those playing it, therefore why is not on TV or online? A 2021 study found that only 5.7% of sports news coverage was dedicated to women’s sport and that almost 0% of front-page coverage mentioned women’s sport of any kind. Perhaps even more disappointingly another study found that 22% of media coverage of women’s sport featured sexualised or misogynistic undertones. With the ever-increasing dominance of social media this has been found to be a reason why girls are more likely to drop sports earlier than their male peers.

Not only is increasing women’s sport the obviously right thing to do for numerous reasons but it’s also a good investment. As it is unfortunately in its infancy stages compared to men’s sport, a little investment can go a long way, both public and private. Private investors can enter this market with little of the congested complex commercial structures that often surround men’s sport and make a real impact.

Although public funding is needed to kickstart grassroot sports, the value of private investors to bolster the professional leagues is extremely high. The USA is a prime example of this, their men’s “soccer” team is ranked fourteenthwhile their women’s team is first. This didn’t just happen by chance, the USA invests heavily in their women’s team, and although I will not pretend that the USA has complete gender equality within sports, they do place a much higher value on it than Scotland and the rest of the UK. For example only half of UEFA’s women’s football staff were employed full-time, compared to 95% of the USA’s. USA have more registered professional “soccer” players than the whole of Europe and their team generates more revenue than the men’s (and after much campaigning from the women’s team will rightfully be paid the same). Their equal investment means that they overtook some of the best-regarded football European nations, who still refuse to support their female football players properly. 

We need to inspire girls to take up sports and stay in them, but we also need to ensure that there are sports teams and clubs with the proper facilities to enable this. If we provide investment, it must be provided to both top and bottom and just like in men’s sport there should be a clear path for female sportspeople to have successful and rewarding careers in their sport, without having a second job to fund it. There are so many ways we can approach this to make it better, money is a start but increasing media coverage, having more female heads of sports governing bodies and female sports presenters/commentators can all make a huge difference in making the sports community inclusive and equal to all genders. 

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