More Female Participation is Sport’s Biggest Opportunity
By Rory Sweeney, Account Manager at Paul Allen & Associates
When the question of female participation in any sport is discussed, it is often seen as a challenge. A sort of chore that governing bodies are forced to devote time and attention to because it is bad PR if they don’t. It always comes down to spending money, on encouraging young girls to play sports, increasing prize money/wages for female athletes, or spending more on high performance programmes.
However, we need to take a step back and look at what female athletes have achieved for sport, and the immense value they bring.
This year, the entire country was captivated by Rachael Blackmore’s epic performances at Cheltenham and the Grand National. Countless people across Ireland and the UK who have no interest in horse racing tuned in to see a woman reach the pinnacle of her sport, cheering her on the whole way. She is now a superstar in a way that Paul Townend could never be, because she has transcended the sport.
The value of Blackmore’s success to horse racing is enormous. Does anyone remember Gordon Elliott? Of course not.
In the same vein, how do you measure Katie Taylor’s positive impact on boxing? There isn’t a soul in Ireland who doesn’t know who she is, what she looks like, what she sounds like or what she has achieved. Not only that, but she has forever changed the sport, headlining fights and making people sit up and take notice of female boxing. Ten years ago it would have been impossible for a women’s bout to top the bill.
In motor racing, Danica Patrick blazed a trail for female drivers with her long career in Nascar, becoming a US superstar and perhaps the sport’s most famous face.
The lesser known sport of ultra-running (running races longer than a 26.2 mile marathon) has its own new superstar, American woman Courtney Dauwalter, who regularly beats her male competitors. She came first overall in the Moab 240 mile race, second overall in the Tahoe 200 miles, and second overall in the Big’s Backyard Ultra, completing 279 miles in the process.
In 2019, the US was captivated by football for perhaps the first time as the US women’s team won the World Cup in France, making their charismatic captain Megan Rapinoe a household name.
In November of that year, I also remember being in a busy pub where every single person sat captivated by the Irish women’s hockey team beating Canada on penalties to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. This was after they had shocked the world by getting to a World Cup final.
Whatever you might think of the UFC, they have not been afraid of putting their female stars front and centre. Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm headlined UFC 193 in 2015 with a record-setting crowd, capturing international media attention.
TG4 continued their exceptional record in sports broadcasting this year with coverage of the Women’s Australian Football League. Not only were sports fans in Ireland able to watch a sport they didn’t have much access to before, but young Irish girls saw former Irish GAA players Sarah Rowe, Cora Staunton, Sinead McGoldrick, Aishling Sheridan and ten others compete in professional team sport.
These exceptional women prove that both the hardcore fan, the casual fan and the indifferent observer are interested in women’s sport. The immediate, short term PR gain of a major sport involving more women is huge. Media outlets are crying out for more top-level female competitions to cover, and in many ways it’s an easy way of getting more eyeballs watching your sport and racking up column inches.
Not only this, but the long-term effect of inspiring more young women and girls to take up a sport and see that it is possible for them to achieve greatness is utterly invaluable.
Women in sport isn’t just a cost, it is a real investment opportunity for sports. The sports that take the lead on this now will reap the benefits down the line.