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Diahanne Rhiney
Will women's sport awards be a game changer?

ALL GOLD: Nicola Adams celebrates at the London 2012 Olympics

THIS THURSDAY (May 14) the Women’s Sports Trust #BeAGameChanger Awards 2015 take place in London. The awards, sponsored by Microsoft, will see athletes, organisations and individuals come together who have made a positive contribution to the world of women’s sport.

It will be a time to highlight the success stories and celebrate the achievements of women, whilst raising the profile of inspiring role models. It was at the Women’s World Cup Final in 1999 that Sebb Platter declared, “the future of football is feminine”.

The likes of London 2012 stars Nicola Adams and Jessica Ennis-Hill, rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi and England football Rachel Yankey have all contributed to the feelgood factor surrounding women in sport.

However, more than a decade later, it appears that women’s sport is still side-lined, underfunded and ignored, and not getting the same recognition as its male counterparts. The football season is almost over, and it is clear male sports such as football, rugby and tennis continue to dominate the sporting headlines and fixtures.

Traditionally seen as a bastion of masculinity, the working class and very macho, the image of football as a man's game may have to be re-assessed. Research suggests that increasing numbers of women now attend top-level football matches in England. The study by Populus found 19% of fans going to Premier League games in the 2008-09 season were women.

More recent figures indicate 23 per cent of the supporters at Premier League games last season were women, up from 19 per cent in the 2008-09 campaign. In the German Bundesliga the figure is 27 per cent, up from 18% two years ago, while more than 40% of the TV audience for games of the national World Cup winning side are female. On a positive note, female fans’ increasing interest in football partly reflects the renewed popularity of the women’s game, which is now much more regularly televised in the UK.

Women’s football may lag far behind the men’s game in terms of prestige, funding, and commercialism, however, it is not true to think that it is a new sport, it is definitely on the rise. Over the years and with the success of the national team, popularity in women’s football continues to grow. Yet despite these positive changes, there remains a perception that women’s sport in general, and particularly football, given the popularity of the game, is inferior to men’s.

Editors will argue that they will not cover women’s football until there is evidence that readers are interested, which does little to galvanise support and build a fan base. In contrast, across the pond in America, women’s football or soccer, is an organised, fully professional sport. Like other sports in the states, women’s soccer has benefitted from funding, and college programmes that has led to the formation of women’s soccer teams at universities and a national team. All in America, which is not a traditional football-playing country, and is now dominating international women’s football.

Generally speaking, women's sport gets a raw deal. As females in sport, not just in football, they are overlooked. They represent their country, are ambassadors and great role models but the female sport does not gets the recognition it deserves. And let’s not forget pay parity. Women put in the same amount of hours, sweat and arguably more sacrifice when taking part in elite sport, therefore, pay packets, rewards and recognition should reflect that.

GAME CHANGER: Jessica Ennis-Hill

It is well proven that sport can inspire ambition and challenge perceptions. However, this is proving more of a challenge in women’s sports. Who can forget Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton? They represented female athletes who were strong, powerful and inspiring, and made the headlines in the 2012 Olympics for all the right reasons.

However, research from The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) shortly after the Olympics found that the public wanted to see more media coverage of women's sport, yet coverage of women's sport is only 5% of all media coverage. Furthermore, there is a lack of female journalists and broadcasters.

Less than 10 per cent of sports journalists in Britain – writers, subs, photographers and broadcasters are women according to Sports Journalists Association research, a lower proportion than in any other area of journalism. Claire Balding and Gabby Roslin are perhaps the most prominent, but again this is an area completely male dominated.

More action is needed to ensure:

• Greater efforts to ensure school sport appeals to more girls
• Better publicity for sportswomen
• Better pay for female athletes
• Corporate sponsors investing properly in sportswomen
• Broadcast coverage of Britain's women at all international sporting events
• Women on the boards of all national sporting governing bodies

This is why the role of The Women’s Sports Trust is so important. They identify and promote female role models in sport, and forge strong media partnerships with journalists and broadcasters to increase the platforms for women’s sport. They also help bridge the gap with the inequalities in funding and sponsorship.

Does any of this matter? Well if we believe that watching sports not only inspires us to participate in sport, but also achieve more in life, then surely we have an obligation to the next generation of young women that can be inspired by promoting more female role models in sport.

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