Can you name 5 players in women’s sport? How about 10? Now, think about it – how long would it take you to come up with the names of 10 men in sport?
This question alone can tell a story about the undervalued history of women’s sport. Traditionally, men’s sport has been considered superior, receiving significantly more funding, attention and support while women’s sport has been treated as a lesser version residing in the shadows.
But not anymore…
The tides are turning and women’s sport is (finally) coming into the mainstream. Last year, a global study reported that 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sport – and now it’s starting to show. From the strong World Cup performance of England’s Lionesses to 15-year-old tennis player Coco Gauff’s shock win over her idol at Wimbledon, women’s sport is drawing attention across the globe.
After decades of pushback and dismissals (women’s football was banned for half of the last century in the UK), sportswomen are starting to get the recognition they deserve. And they’re inspiring millions of young women and girls in the process.
So what’s changed?
Achieving goals – an expert display of sports(wo)manship
This summer the Women’s FIFA World Cup captured audiences across England, the US, and worldwide with triumphant wins, tense competition and outspoken statements.
At the start of July, a peak of 11.7 million viewers tuned into the English Lionesses playing against the US in the semi-final. And while their American rivals may have beaten them to eventually win the trophy, the English team is showing a generation of girls the power of women’s sport.
And the same can be said on the other side of the pond, as young American girls are seeing the US women’s soccer team take the spotlight.
Golden Boot-winner Megan Rapinoe scored a penalty against rivals The Netherlands in the World Cup final earlier this month and has since used her platform to speak out for issues she feels strongly about, earning herself the title of ‘America’s badass sweetheart’.
Out of the park: women’s sport beyond the playing field
Rapinoe has long been a vocal supporter of equal pay, LGBTQ+ rights and racial equality, with remarkable eloquence and confidence to boot. Despite relentless trolling, even from the highest office in the land, Rapinoe’s poise and unshakeable self-belief has earned her massive support from fans.
And other stars of women’s sport have been making their mark, too.
Cori “Coco” Gauff, a 15-year-old American tennis player, has become a household name following her extraordinary Wimbledon performance this summer. After beating one of her childhood heroes Venus Williams in the first round, Gauff skyrocketed to fame and received congratulatory messages from the likes of Michelle Obama, Snoop Dogg and Jaden Smith, and was exclusively interviewed by Vogue.
Gauff’s meteoric rise to popularity has confirmed her as one of the newest stars of women’s sport, and brands are now lining up to negotiate sponsorship deals with her.
It’s clear that women’s sport is attracting a lot of attention right now, and long may it last.
Overcoming Hurdles – women playing the long game
But what’s next for women’s sport?
Well, as you might expect, there’s still a long way to go before women and men reach an equal playing field. While progress has been made – all the tennis majors now offer equal prize money to male and female winners – there are still huge disparities in pay, sponsorship deals and marketing spend (even in tennis, where large differences in earning power remain).
But the future is looking up. As sportswomen continue to speak up and fight for equality with their male counterparts, women’s sport is gradually becoming a common fixture in sports media coverage.
Megan Rapinoe described women’s existence in professional sports as “almost a protest in and of itself in the very sexist society that we live in.”
And it’s bold voices like hers that are working to break down barriers and generate systemic change to inspire more young women and girls to pursue their sporting dreams.