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London Was a Start, But We Still Haven't Addressed the Gender Imbalance in Sport

27/07/2016 17:19 | Updated 27 July 2016
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No matter how much we think we have advanced the professional game, lauded our medal-winning athletes or focussed the media spotlight, when it comes to sport, it's a man's world.

The London 2012 Olympics was a triumphant occasion for British female athletes, with heptathlon hero Jessica Ennis becoming a figurehead for a spectacular medal haul that saw stars such as Nicola Adams, Charlotte Dujardin and the already renowned Victoria Pendleton become household names.

But it was a tweet by @EverydaySexism that unearthed an important oversight. Despite our female athletes fulfilling prophesies of 2012 being a 'girlie games' for Britain, our public service broadcaster the BBC only managed to cover women's sports in 5.4% of all posts sent out on their Facebook page.

That echoes a general media blackout for women's sport, which makes up for just ten per cent of televised sports coverage, two per cent of national newspaper coverage, five per cent of radio coverage and four per cent of online coverage.

It's hardly surprising, then, that public interest in women's sport doesn't match that of the opposite sex, despite several high-profile male sports stars being baffled by the disparity. Earlier this year Novak Djokovic said male tennis players should earn more money following comments by Indian Wells tournament CEO Raymond Moore that the women's WTA Tour "rides on the coat-tails of the men".

Their suggestions have been historically adhered to in most sports where significant disparities in prize money exist. Men get more cash than women in 30 per cent of sports, which has wider implications than just the purse strings of professional players and governing bodies. Former UK Minister for Sport Helen Grant said closing the gap isn't just "about the bottom line and profits and the return on investment", but it's "also taking part in the battle for gender balance and fairness in the 21st century".

With Rio 2016 around the corner, perhaps the most worrying aspect about female participation in sport comes from new research that suggests most girls give up sport once they finish school and compulsory PE lessons. The study of 1,000 girls aged 16-24 found usual factors such as 'lack of time' and 'losing interest' were among the main reasons, but feelings that they weren't good enough and the lack of encouragement from others also featured heavily.

British cycling star and Olympic gold medallist Laura Trott, who is partnering with Always for their #LikeAGirl campaign, said: "We all go through it, but puberty can be such a challenging time for girls, you suddenly feel really self-conscious about lots of things and start thinking you can't or shouldn't do certain activities.

"I remember kids making fun of me for cycling and wearing a helmet and that would really knock my confidence. But playing sport taught me that by believing in myself, and never quitting, you can achieve great things."

Half of young girls believe becoming more self-conscious about their body during puberty prevents young women from playing sports once they finish school, and more than one in twenty even claimed they were teased by others for their interest in sport, leading them to quit rather than continuing into later life.

Almost a third put girls' dwindling participation in sports as they get older down to the fact there is little or no respect for females in sports, with one in four even believe a lack of media coverage on women's sports are a factor, along with a lack of encouragement from friends and family, no financial support and a lack of role models.

If we are really to address the gender imbalance in sport we need to place the spotlight on the pressing issues facing our young girls. London 2012 was a start, but we still have a long way to go.

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