Although perceived inequality between male and female athletes has arguably narrowed significantly in recent years, there is still a long way to go to before we achieve a level playing field in the world of global sports.
Following International Women’s Day, Tennis Wales wants to highlight the importance of narrowing the gender gap in all types of sport participation for good.
Among the world's greatest athletes, tennis star Serena Williams was the only woman who ranked among the world's 100 highest paid in 2017. Shockingly, women’s sport in the UK only receives 0.4 per cent of all corporate sponsorship and a 7 per cent share of all sports media coverage in the UK.
And despite the fact that tennis is one of the sports leading the way in terms of gender equality, there is still a 60/40 split in participation in Wales in favour of men.
Equal pay was introduced from 2007 in tennis Grand Slams, yet the top male players still earn more annually thanks to better opportunities and sponsorship deals. This goes to show that although gender blind prizes may go some way to lessen the divide, a lot more still needs to be done to encourage girls into sport from a young age.
Tennis Wales would like to create the right environment for women and girls to develop and blossom in sport. We believe the source of the problem lies with how girls perceive and engage with sport at school age.
Statistics from UN Women found that 49 per cent of girls quit sport by the time they reach puberty. This often has to do with the gender stereotypes they encounter, their body awareness and not having the right environment to participate freely.
These factors have significant consequences in professional training later in life. To close the gap in the long term, we believe it’s vital to be working with young girls to help them change their behavior and understand that sport is fun and is something they’re entitled to just as much as boys.
As part of the Lawn Tennis Association's (LTA) commitment to encourage more girls to take up the sport, the She Rallies initiative was launched last year, championed by Judy Murray. The vision of the initiative is to attract and retain more women and girls tennis in the UK by inspiring and empowering a female workforce to create more opportunities for women and girls.
As part of my work with community outreach programmes, I was selected by Tennis Wales as one of four She Rallies ambassadors in Wales. To make tennis more accessible for women and girls, the scheme aims to stray away from the traditional perception of tennis by giving the sport a new, more accessible and dynamic image.
Young girls often avoid going to sports clubs as it can be an intimidating experience to enter a predominantly male-dominated coaching space. We want to introduce tennis in an environment where everyone feels comfortable.
She Rallies works closely with schools and community groups to create opportunities for women at all tennis levels to deliver tennis coaching to girls.
To date, the scheme has trained over 600 female activators across the UK, with over 100 in Wales alone. The initiative isn’t about female only tennis; it’s about getting the initial interest in the sport in a familiar environment so girls of all ages and ability can be involved in all types of tennis.
The gender equality charity, Chwarae Teg, supports the move to encourage parity in sport from an early age. Helen Bradley, strategic communications lead at the organisation, said:
“ The outdated perception that women are in any way inferior when it comes to sport and athletics has absolutely no place in our society. Yet, just like the gender gap we see across many different sectors of business, the divide seems to be rooted at school age.
“Exercise for women is often encouraged for its association with physical and health benefits, but girls and boys alike deserve to know about the thrill and joy of sport participation from the youngest age possible.
“Any scheme that aims to challenge the gender barriers in sport and works to increase opportunities for women at all levels should be taken seriously.”
Introducing sport at grassroots level has a positive impact on the way girls embrace physical activity in the long term. Despite the slow pace, change is most definitely advancing and the gap is finally narrowing, but we still have a way to go before we achieve a fully level playing field in sport.