By Abi Curran
As England enters its second national lockdown, the sporting world has been rocked again on both elite and grassroots levels. Whilst professional sporting leagues continue such as the Premier League and the anticipated Premiership Rugby, the significance of the Covid-19 lockdown is perhaps being felt more sharply by women in sport.
On a financial level, women’s sport is not backed by sponsorship deals which are as lucrative as in the men’s game. In June, when sport returned behind closed doors in many football, cricket and rugby grounds, it was not financially viable for women’s sport to immediately commence without significant financial backing.
When the Premier League returned in the summer, authorities came under fire for not ensuring that the same levels of testing could be in place for the Women’s Super League which was cancelled in May. This was unlike the men’s games where all competitions recommenced.
Though there were some successes for women’s sport in 2020. This came in the form of England Cricket’s clean sweep over the West Indies in the T20 series and England Rugby achieving back to back Grand Slams following their 54-0 thrashing of Italy in the Six Nations.
However, as Britain emerged from lockdown in July with a very male-dominated sporting calendar, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee believe women are now less likely to take up new sporting activities after being disproportionately affected by sporting cancellations.
The fears are that by not giving publicity to women’s sport on an elite level, the impact will trickle down to grassroots where much of the work done by the successful ‘This Girl Can’ campaign in 2016 will be undone.
Some steps have been taken to promote women’s sport in the Autumn with the rugby Grand Slam winner’s international games being broadcasted by the BBC and giving the sport welcome exposure at a time when grassroots rugby has once again been paused.
However, perhaps the most recent effects on women in sport have been felt within football. Following the announcement this month of a national lockdown by Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, girls at elite regional football academies were forced to cease play until the official lockdown period is over. However, their male equivalents of the EFL and Premier League academies were not told to suspend play.
This comes after government guidance clearly state that any person ‘aged sixteen or above and on an elite developments pathway’ would be exempt from the lockdown.
Somewhat of an equality row has risen from this with the FA coming under fire for the shut down of all women’s football with the only exceptions being the WSL and the Championship.
Over Summer, Women in Sport conducted research into ‘Implications for Women’s Participation’ which found that ‘39% of women said that losing their fitness would have a long-term impact.’
Of course, women are just one of the marginalised groups in society who have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic. MPs have called on the DCMS to establish a fund to invest in helping, not only women but, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled people to have access to physical activity content and encourage this throughout the second lockdown.
During the UK’s first lockdown it was estimated that fourty two per cent of women compared with thirty five per cent of men reported a drop in activity levels which is an indication as to why more effort needs to be done to put women’s sport on the national stage.
It is hoped that in the future, the plethora of sporting success achieved in 2019 will be replicated and furthered, encouraging an upward trend of grassroots participation in sport.
With events such as the 2021 ICC Women’s World Cup being postponed, for the moment, men’s sport has taken priority in the sporting calendar. However, with help from the government and sporting bodies alike, this is something which can and frankly must be addressed so that participation in women’s sport increases to unprecedented levels seen before the pandemic.
Image: Pierre-Yves Beaudouin via Creative Commons