This weekend has seen a huge public response to the announcement by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) that, after talks with broadcasters, it will no longer use walk-on girls. The Women’s Sport Trust publicly support the PDC’s decision and encourage other sports such as Motor Racing, Boxing and Cycling to follow their example.

Media coverage for this topic has been extensive and we welcome any conversation that addresses the profile and opportunity for women in sport. Unfortunately, whilst the decision to change the format of events was taken by the PDC, the public debate has primarily been characterised as walk-on-girls versus feminists.

We take no pleasure in the fact that this decision may affect the income of the women involved. Our charity exists to raise the profile of female sporting role models, increase media coverage for women’s sport and create a fairer funding model.

Our issue with the use of models in sport as walk-on girls, grid girls and ring girls is the message it gives about how women are valued in society. Sporting viewers are expected to admire the successful, talented, strong men taking part in competition, with the role of women purely based on their physical appearance. Women are being positioned as an embellishment to a sport, rather than having the opportunity to enjoy the same level of funding and media exposure as men.

Sport mirrors and magnifies society. If we depict women in sport in a way that reinforces a narrow stereotype, we add to the pressure young girls in particular feel to look and act a certain way. If we depict women in a central, powerful and sporting role, we create a positive, modern and accurate image to inspire others.

Sport is a place where everyone should be able to participate, play and be valued for their skill, teamwork, achievements and enthusiasm.

What we are really interested in is the decision-makers in a sport having to account for how they view women, the roles they think appropriate for women, how they relate to their audiences and what this says about their organisations. We look forward to continuing our work with rights holders, brands and broadcasters as they review the wider role of women in sport and society and explore how their marketing could evolve.

Being part of this conversation has meant that Women’s Sport Trust has experienced significant amounts of online abuse this weekend. These individuals seem to be unaware that in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, being the biggest bully in the playground simply doesn’t cut it anymore. If you have an argument to make, then make it – but aggressive abuse will not stop the debate.

We wanted to leave the last word to outstanding female boxer, Stacey Copeland, who in response to the PDC’s decision commented, “Great news!  This is why I have kids as mascots instead of ring girls when I box.  Just because it’s ‘tradition’ doesn’t make it right.”

Women’s Sport Trust