THE BLOG

Coming First

15/04/2015 10:28 BST | Updated 13/06/2015 10:59 BST

Coming first, winning, that's what sport is all about right? Perhaps not in 2015. This year being first means something else for women's sport - the first Universities Women's Boat Race on The Tideway on the same day as the men's race, the first time the Women's Boat Race has been broadcast live on BBC1. And there is more; the first women's England international football match to play to the roar of a sell-out crowd at the new Wembley, with the FA Cup Final to follow suit later this year - the FA Women's Cup that is. And I almost choked on my morning cuppa a few weeks ago when I heard, for the first time, a Netball Superleague result broadcast as part of a run-of-the-mill sports bulletin during a national radio breakfast show. Brilliant!

Well yes, on one level this is brilliant - so many leaps forward for women's sport, but let's not be complacent - these winning firsts are still far too few and far between.

At Women in Sport we believe passionately that media coverage of women's sport - only a year ago making up just 7% of all media coverage of sport - is crucial for all of sport and for the fight for equality. It's vital because it helps to normalise sport for women and girls. It shows women and girls that sport is as much for them as it is for men. It opens the door to sport for women and girls on and off the field of play (or Tideway) and shows them what is possible.

But whilst raising awareness of the role women have to play in sport is important, sport still needs more women at every level.. For example, the evidence is clear - more women around the board table leads to improved commercial performance - and we need every sport to improve commercially if women's sport overall is to continue to improve.

While the 18 women on The Tideway this weekend are to be praised as pioneers, for me the real hero of this year's Women's Boat Race is Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management. Helena had a vision; she recognised that the biggest difference between the men's and women's Boat Clubs at Oxford and Cambridge was the size of their bank balance, so she stepped up and did something about it. Through strong leadership she convinced her Board at Newton to invest. They helped build the race, and they committed for the long term. Five years later I can't imagine there is any doubt around the Newton board table that this investment recommendation has paid dividends - Helena said as much herself in our Say Yes to Success report last year. The coverage Newton has received has been huge, and rightly so.

Getting the women to The Tideway was a team effort, but the vision and commitment of Helena Morrissey and her team at Newton was a major catalyst, (perhaps this is why Oxford names their boat 'Catalyst').

For women's sport to be truly transformed we need brands to follow the example set by Newton - or by Kia with their sponsorship of the England women's cricket team last year, or Continental with their support of women's football - by taking the decision to step up and get involved. The pitiful 0.4% of all commercial investment into sport that currently goes to women's sport must be increased if we are to see more firsts like the ones mentioned above - surely it's time.

Being first does make you a winner - and this weekend, on Boat Races day, there are many winners - Oxford, Newton, Helena, the BBC, equality, the list goes on. The question now is who will be the next big pioneer? Women's sport is waiting for you...