7 insights into what it takes to progress women’s sport from worthy to irresistible

Photo credit: James Cannon - Sport is Beautiful
Photo credit: James Cannon – Sport is Beautiful

Barely three weeks ago we held our inaugural #BeAGameChanger awards, which were the culmination of 6 months solid work to seek out those individuals, organisations and partnerships that have really made a difference to women’s sport.

It was a phenomenal event and the finalists, award winners and audience provided ample proof that women’s sport is an irresistible proposition.  The Awards also stirred up vigorous debate both inside and out of the room – which resulted in us trending #1 on Twitter that night.

#WomensSportWeek presents us with the ideal opportunity to take stock, review and share what we have learnt from these ‘gamechangers’, about what is progressing women’s sport – and making it visible, viable and unstoppable.

The 8 award categories attracted over 150 hugely diverse and exciting nominations from the public.  These were whittled down by our expert panel to 3 to 4 finalists in each category, followed by public voting that attracted 25,000 votes from 3,784 individuals.  On the night, our 8 fantastic winners were joined by Sue Mott, who was presented with our ‘Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Sport’ award by Dame Mary Peters in recognition of her commitment to raising the profile of women’s sport throughout her career as a top sports journalist.  There was a lively, humorous and enlightening discussion from an Intergenerational Panel comprising Dame Rachel Heyhoe Flint, Lizzy Yarnold, Nicole Cooke and Mercy Brown that considered the importance of role models, the media and funding in their sporting careers.

From the longstanding tradition of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, to the thoroughly modern ‘jiggle’ of #ThisGirlCan and the moving work of Skate Girls of Kabul the #BeAGameChanger awards covered the full spectrum of sport and gave us valuable insights into what actually brings about progress.  They provided evidence of what it takes to shift from talking about issues to actually taking action.  Below are the 7 lessons we’ve learnt about how people are changing women’s sport.

  1. Individuals taking ‘leaps of faith’ to realise the full value and possibilities of women’s sport. Be this an individual journalist such as Jessica Creighton, a business leader like Helena Morrissey, in funding the Newton Investment Management Women’s Boat Race, or the athletes themselves.  Change starts with a committed individual deciding to #BeAGameChanger.
  1. Selling inspirational visions. Women’s sport is a compelling proposition as the petition calling for a women’s race at the Tour de France demonstrated.  Spearheaded by four of the biggest names in the world of cycling, it received nearly 100,000 signatures and resulted in the creation of the inaugural one-day women’s race.  Success requires someone to demonstrate what is possible and to refuse to accept the status quo.  As our main sponsor Microsoft put it, being a gamechanger is being part of an “irresistible force for change”.
  1. Using influence to realise the opportunity. We saw how athletes, such as Nicola Adams, use their position as role models to influence others to support women’s sport.  Adams is credited with a 50% increase in women participating in some form of boxing. We heard how Ambassadors like Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson continue to use their profile and position to influence public policy and debate. The most effective gamechangers understand that they have influence and are strategically using it both from within and the outside sport to make things happen.
  1. Challenging the status quo. Those who want to change the game do not shy away from what may be considered unachievable, just like bringing England Women to play at the new Wembley for the first time in front of a crowd of 45,000.  Whether at a national or a grassroots level gamechangers are standing up and asking ‘how?’ rather than, ‘can we?’  They tend not to accept no as an answer.
  1. Media coverage and promotion matters. #ThisGirlCan signalled a significant new step for Sport England in using social media and mainstream media to drive change. BBC Sport recognises that the amount of coverage they give to women’s sport is essential in showcasing fantastic sport and providing entertainment.  Similarly, all our winners and finalists acknowledged that being a successful gamechanger involves finding and using the right media platforms to promote their message.
  1. Money is not a dirty word. Whilst the awards recognised some ground-breaking sponsorship partnerships such as Kia & the ECB, Investec & England Hockey and Newton Investment Management & the Boat Race – it was clear that there are still far too few examples of investment in women’s sport.  Athletes talked about the difference funding made to them and business people in the room indicated their desire to support women’s sport.  But more needs to be done to convert positive intent into deals done.  This is why WST is committed to shifting the funding landscape through our partnerships with Y-Sport and the 30% Club’s Sport & Business Group.
  1. Keep going and know what the long game is. There is a definite feeling that 2015 marks a ‘tipping point’ for women’s sport, with Clare Balding stating “When they look back at the history of women’s sport, this will be the year that it changed.”  The awards celebrated some amazing achievements and our insightful ‘Intergenerational Panel’ discussion demonstrated how far we have come, but there is no room for complacency.  There is much still to be done to get anywhere close to parity in media coverage and funding for women’s sport so longevity and endurance are vital to changing the game for good.

Nicola Waterworth, Joint Operations Director