Scottish Women in Sport – Why?


Maureen McGonigle textWhy do we need an organisation solely to look out for the needs of our women athletes – aren’t athletes just that – athletes?   That was a question I had asked myself on many occasions – and this stimulated another question – why is it that women’s sport at a disadvantage in all areas – funding – profile – media coverage, etc?

With over 20 years’ experience working for women’s football in Scotland I was more aware than most of the difficulties in getting the press and media to take our football clubs and players seriously – I must have heard every pun in the book and would be a rich women if I had a pound for every time a man would say – I’ll come to the game if they swap jerseys at the end!!!  Harmless banter? Is it?

My journey with SWiS started out in 2013 after a superb showing at the 2012 Olympics from women athletes.  There had been a marked difference, a surge in coverage in the press in the run up to the Olympics and throughout the Olympics; even directly afterwards we were still being exposed to the successes of women in sport.  However that was short lived as media interest in women’s sport soon waned.  This is documented in an excellent report from the Gender Hub – ‘The Circus Comes to Town’, which shows the spike in media attention and the subsequent drop.

Just around this time, Clare Balding stepped forward and took up the mantle for all women athletes and from her well-deserved position in the media, she had a voice that commanded attention and what she had to say was shocking:-

  • 5% is the total market sponsorship of women’s sport in the UK
  • 1% for men’s sports over the same period
  • Mixed sports accounts for the remainder of the market.
  • 5% of sports media coverage features women
  • For every 53 articles written about men in sport, there is one about a woman.
  • Currently up to 70% of boys participate in regular exercise, with some reports suggesting the amount of girls participating in sport to be as low as 31%.
  • Only 12% of girls at age 14 are taking the recommended amount of activity.

I agreed with her – listening to her on the car radio it struck a cord and whilst I thought she was doing an excellent job I just wasn’t sure how reflective that was of Scotland.  I felt that we needed our own organisation to look at base-line figures, to work with the media, to encourage investment into women’s sport and from that thought – Scottish Women in Sport was born (SWiS).

I applied to the School for Social Entrepreneurs who offered a £4,000 start-up grant which was given to assist with the development of the individual and support in part their project.  Not only did they offer twelve days of in house training covering everything from Finance, IP, Social Media etc., the support of my cohorts on the programme helped ‘lift’ me when things didn’t always go to plan!

SWiS Launched at the end of 2013 and comprised of representatives from sporting governing bodies, the media, MSPs, youth charities, business, equality groups and the health sector; we also received the backing of the Scottish Government as well as many high profile athletes and coaches.  Olympic gold medal rower Katherine Grainger and tennis coach Judy Murray attended the launch in November, giving full support to the organisation.  We all had one thing in common – change – and we all agreed with that we needed to educate young girls on positive life choices, break down media stereotypes, create a strong voice to lobby and raise awareness, highlight positive role models, influence decision makers and encourage increased commercial investment into all sports that include women.

Whilst it was my intention to try to run this organisation in my spare time, I was made redundant in December 2013 from my role with Scottish Women’s Football, therefore I decided to focus my energies into SWiS for at least twelve months.  The response to the organisation has been amazing and interest in SWiS grows on a daily basis……however funding still eludes us!

Our first major event was a conference supported by RBS at their headquarters in Gogarburn, Edinburgh which was well attended and well received by all.  We investigated the alternatives to mainstream media, delivering presentations on social media, digital marketing, live streaming – areas that women in sport are very familiar with and are using to their distinct advantage. The conference was a great success with many of the delegates staying behind to chat and network with like-minded people from various organisations from all over Scotland.

More recently we held our first awards dinner in partnership with SSE and saw eight awards presented, all supported by different category sponsors one of which was amateur Photographer of the Year.  This came from a photography competition in partnership with the daily Record and the standard of photographs received was startling.  Ian Steele was named the winner with a fabulous netball pic.  A great night was had by all in attendance with the highlight of the night being an interview with Eilidh Child by Alison Walker – Eilidh also picked up the top award of Sportswomen of the Year.

Now SWiS is in the market for investment…. in order to progress at the rate we have done in the past year we need core investment into the organisation.  Self-financed and run by volunteers we require funding to take us to the next level and allow us to put our strategic vision for 2015-2018 into practice.

Recently we were offered office premises in Glasgow Caledonian University Buchanan House, courtesy of GCU.  This will be our base for the foreseeable future as we progress our work.   Our aim and vision, is a Scotland where females of all ages, abilities, ethnicities and walks of life are participating in sport or physical activity; within a positive, equitable culture where their achievements are promoted and celebrated and our motto is Educate – Participate – Celebrate.

I feel now that time is right; there is a chink of light, a feeling, a movement spearheaded by women and supported by many men, demanding change in Scotland.  The spin off from this will see more women in positions of leadership in sport – bringing a diversity and balance to decision making; better investment into all levels of sport from grass roots to elite; greater participation – young girls will read and see more about our athletes and hopefully get involved in sport, this will result in healthier happier and more confident young women and girls in Scotland and all of that can’t be a bad thing!

Perhaps this movement is called Feminism a word that for some time has had a negative spin.  However this feminism seeks gender equality in all areas of life but agrees that we must include men on this journey as men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.  Now feminism is a movement to ensure equity and equality in all walks of life, for women and men, and I’m a fully paid up member………are you?

Join the conversation: @ScotWomenSport @SSS_2000 #Legacy2014 #WomenInSport