Over the past few years we have observed a monumental shift towards gender equality in sport. This is largely due to women’s sport becoming increasingly popular, leading to better awareness of the inequalities that exist which prevent female athletes from gaining access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
In many sectors of sport, this awareness has led to better funding and more equal opportunities for female athletes, both at a grassroots and professional level. This surely sets us on a path towards true gender equality, but are sports governing bodies doing enough to accommodate this change?
Female Football: Leading the Charge to Equality
Following the success of the Lionesses in the Euro 2022, where they beat Germany 2-1 in the final at Wembley, women’s football in the UK has become more mainstream, with other sports following a similar pattern.
This particular women’s Euro competition was the most watched edition of the tournament, yielding a total viewership of 365 million, according to ESPN. This figure demonstrates the growing popularity of the sport, and the demand for more mainstream coverage to accommodate this change.
The success of the women’s 2022 Euro was arguably the catalyst event for increasing interest across all sectors of women’s sport over the past year.
Following Suit: Women’s Cricket
The England women’s cricket team saw success in this year’s Ashes series, winning both white ball series against Australia. The series was ultimately drawn, with both teams able to celebrate their collective efforts to put on a display of high-class cricket that was thrilling to watch.
The opening test of the series gained 480k peak views according to SkySports, the highest viewing figures for a women’s test match in history. As women’s cricket gains a more mainstream platform, this brings with it the hope for more equal opportunities for female athletes, something which the ECB are already making steps to achieve.
In August it was announced that the ECB were going to raise women’s international match fees with immediate effect, to be equal to that of their male counterparts. Raising female player’s match fees was one of the recommendations of the 2023 Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket, a report which found discrimination and inequality to be rife in cricket.
The changes which have occurred in women’s cricket in recent years shed light on the changing nature of women’s sport as a whole – not only is women’s sport becoming more popular, but this popularity raises awareness of the inequalities which still exist in today’s game. These inequalities continue to present barriers for young girls and women hoping to access elite levels of sport.
Driving Forward: Equality in Motorsports
These barriers are never more present than in motorsport, where big moves have been made only recently to try and challenge gender discrimination.
In 2022, we were introduced to F1 Academy, an all-female support series to Formula 1. The predecessor to the F1 Academy was the all-female single-seater racing championship W Series. The championship ran for two full years, but had to end prematurely in its third year due to lack of funding. The demise of W Series was upsetting for fans of the series, in particular those who were interested in women’s motorsport and were keen to see female drivers work their way into more elite levels of motorsport, competing alongside male drivers.
The F1 Academy’s sole aim is to provide female drivers with a pathway into higher levels of motorsport currently dominated by men. The academy has also launched its Discover Your Drive initiative, which encompasses all activities at a grassroots level to get more girls involved in motorsport.
The F1 Academy has already seen its first success story at the end of the 2023 season – the inaugural series champion Marta García has been offered a fully funded seat in the Formula Regional European Championship with PREMA, competing alongside male drivers for the title of champion.
Carving a Brighter Future for Women’s Sport
Despite the efforts of individuals across all sectors of sport to achieve a more gender-equal future, there is still a long way to go.
Spain’s victory in the 2023 women’s football world cup was unfortunately overshadowed by a form of assault, in which the former head of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, planted an unconsented kiss on midfielder Jenni Hermoso’s lips during the medal ceremony.
The Lionesses, who finished runners-up in the competition, were also involved in controversy themselves – despite being named the world’s top goalkeeper in the 2022 Fifa Best awards, Mary Earps’ replica playing shirt was not made available by Nike, who manufactured the Lionesses playing kit for the world cup, while replicas of her teammate’s shirts were made available to fans.
Earps claims she was not made aware of this until the kit was officially released to the public. This sparked outrage among Lionesses fans who claimed the move was disrespectful and represented a lack of respect for the women’s game.
As women’s sport continues to rise in popularity, we are made more aware of the gender inequalities which exist to prevent female athletes from performing at their top level. Male athletes are afforded better opportunities and are taken more seriously in their careers, from the moment they take up a sport, to well into their professional careers.
As these inequalities continue to be exposed, more changes are made at various levels of sport to dismantle the barriers which prevent female athletes from accessing the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
The more mainstream women’s sport becomes, the closer we move as a society towards a gender-equal future.