Speech by the Minister of Sport at the presentation of the International Working Group on Women and Sport
Many thanks to New Zealand for the generous hospitality.
I am delighted to be able to attend today’s event which begins the official handover of the International Working Group on Women and Sport from New Zealand to the UK.
It’s great that the event could take place at the exact same time as Birmingham 2022, which – and it’s worth repeating – has the biggest women’s sports program in Commonwealth Games history and will be a major multi-sport for the first time event there will be more women’s than men’s medal events and I think that’s fantastic.
I am absolutely committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity and advocating for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunity and media visibility. The Lionesses’ fantastic success this weekend shows how far we’ve come.
The UK has a strong track record and history of empowering women and girls through sport. There is still a long way to go, but we have a lot to be proud of in this area.
The media profile of women’s sport continues to rise and recent research shows that two thirds of UK sports fans currently follow some form of women’s sport and half have attended an event involving female athletes.
Our domestic initiatives, like This Girl Can, inspire millions of women and girls to become physically active. Something that is especially important as we recover from the pandemic.
We’ve also seen the growth in audiences for women’s sports.
Recent research released by the Women’s Sport Trust shows that domestic women’s sport attracted a record audience of almost 33 million British television viewers in 2021, with the main drivers being The Hundred and the FA Women’s Super League.
And the leadership of certain media outlets is very important, including the `, which has made the strategic decision to ensure many of these peak-time games are broadcast on ` One. It worked. It showed that there is a mass audience for women’s sport. And that is central. When the eyeballs are there, the money and commercial opportunities begin to flow. Rather than just doing this because it is the right thing to do, we will have increasing competition to hold these events and to ensure that these events are televised because they are commercially viable and commercially lucrative.
And a record crowd of more than 87,000 attended this year’s UEFA Women’s EURO final – the most attended match at a European men’s or women’s championship. I was fortunate enough to attend a few games including the final and I can honestly say the atmosphere was great. The spectators were balanced and more importantly, more than 100,000 children watched these games. I know that the whole nation will have been inspired by the lionesses.
There have also been record sponsorship deals with women’s sports leagues, such as Barclays’ sponsorship of the Women’s Super League, the premier women’s football league in England.
And Britain will host a number of high-profile sporting events for women this year, including the Rugby League World Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup. Plus, of course, Birmingham 2022, which is happening right now.
We work tirelessly to make the most of these events to showcase women’s sport and thereby encourage more women and girls to get active. But we recognize that we have to go further.
The IWG is a great opportunity to build on that success and not only share our amazing work but also learn from other countries.
The UK Secretariat’s vision for a “just and sustainable post-pandemic world in which women and girls play a full and equal role” is something close to my heart.
It is crucial that we continue to work for more equality and equal opportunities in sport.
We have been working with our women’s sport working group in the UK, which many of you have attended, to examine some of the challenges and opportunities that exist and I am very keen that we make further progress as a result of these discussions.
I would also like to commend the work of the current hosts, New Zealand, in sharing, encouraging and supporting stories of inspiring change from around the world.
Also groundbreaking was the development of the world’s first IWG Insight Hub as a home for the world’s best research, insights, case studies, news and interactive programs such as training courses and seminars.
I believe the IWG can be a catalyst for women’s sport as we recover from the effects of the pandemic.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the role you all played in securing the IWG UK Secretariat.
It is imperative that we work together to share the messages behind the offering of inclusivity, justice and collaboration.
I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure women’s sport continues to thrive not only in the UK but on the international stage.