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Women’s sport ‘left behind’ during the pandemic

Inequality, financial fears and gender pay gap concerns are revealed in new report

women's football

After the initial suspension of major leagues and fixtures last year, men’s sport has managed to resume despite the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, for many women’s sports it’s been a totally different ballgame. 

According to new research by Nottingham Trent University, 80% of elite female athletes believe the growth of women’s sport has been “hindered by inequalities between men’s and women’s sport”, Sky Sports reports. The study also found that 66% of respondents revealed concerns over long-term financial implications of Covid-19 and 91% feel there is a gender pay gap. 

Dr Ali Bowes, a senior lecturer in the sociology of sport at Nottingham Trent University, has been investigating the impact of the pandemic on women’s sport. She said: “Research we are about to publish shows that women athletes have many worries about the impact of the pandemic, but are mainly concerned about the long-term financial impact on sport.

“This was often aligned with concerns about both the quantity and quality of media coverage. Disparities were exaggerated when men's sport was able to restart much earlier, and since then, more consistently.

“The pandemic has really opened up conversations about gender inequality in sport. It emphasised the difficulties many elite sportswomen face, and in calling those out - from issues around competition cancellations, ‘elite’ football academies, testing, funding and TV coverage - it provides a possibility for stakeholders to reconsider their approach to women’s sport. 

“I think the future could look bright, but there is a need for broader cultural changes regarding women’s and girls’ involvement in sport, including normalising women’s sport as simply ‘sport’.”

Focus on men’s football 

Caroline Nokes MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, told Sky Sports that the focus on men’s football has affected women’s sport. She said: “Women’s sport and fitness has been left behind during the pandemic, with a focus on the Premier League above pretty much every other sport.

"Throughout the pandemic, I have spoken to fitness instructors, yoga and Pilates teachers, dance school owners and trampoline clubs who all feel left behind. The Government needs to make sure, as we come out of this lockdown, that women’s sport is not forgotten. 

“It’s all very well to have an escape plan for golf and fishing, but it cannot come at the expense of sports that women participate in and need to get back to.”

In response to the research the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that women’s sport “must not take a back seat again”. 

A spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity - pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities and visibility in the media. 

“We are alive to the pressures that women’s sports are facing. Clubs and sports bodies have benefited from the multi-billion pound package of Government support that has been made available, and more targeted support will be announced very shortly.”

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