Why the London Olympics Really Matter for Women

25/07/2012 17:15 BST | Updated 24/09/2012 10:12 BST

We at the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation believe that the London 2012 Olympics will be the best ever for women. These are some of the reasons why:

  • Women make up 48% of Team GB (the highest proportion ever).
  • The introduction of Women's Boxing means that women will participate in every sport for the first time.
  • Every country will be represented by women at the Games - again for the first time ever. The last country never to send a woman, Saudi Arabia, has decided to send two female competitors.
  • There are more medals available for women than ever before (132 in London compared to 127 in Beijing 2008).

We also know that our best sportswomen will be getting a much greater share of the media spotlight than is usually the case. In the run up to the Games, we have already seen the likes of Jess Ennis, Victorian Pendleton and Rebecca Adlington appearing regularly on TV, on billboards and in newspapers.

It's great that women's sport gets so much profile in the Olympics. But outside the Games, it is still marginalised.

In the UK today, women's sport attracts just 5% of all sports media coverage and only 0.5% of commercial sponsorship. This lack of profile and investment is not just bad news for women's elite sport. It is bad news for all of us. Girls today still grow up without female sporting role models to inspire them and in a culture that tells them that it is more important to be thin than fit. No wonder that only one in ten adult women are active enough to benefit their health. At age 14, only 12% of girls in this country meet the official guidelines for physical activity - roughly half the number of boys at the same age.

Our research, Changing the Game, for Girls, found that negative body image is consistently cited as a barrier for girls participating in exercise. The other very clear finding is that being sporty for a girl is still not seen as aspirational - or even normal -as it is for boys. Indeed, sporty girls can be viewed with suspicion by other girls who perhaps don't think they are paying enough attention to their appearance. They see getting sweaty, dirty, and messy as not being sufficiently feminine.

In addition, 43% of all secondary age girls agree that "there aren't many sporting role models for girls". We know that being physically active is one of the best ways of increasing body confidence and feelings of self-worth, so the profile of our best athletes does matter. There is an urgent need for role models and a shift in our culture so that we celebrate fit, active - and yes - sporty women.

And that brings me back to the Olympics. Here at the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation we're working hard to create a nation of active women and know that we need to do all we can to capitalise on what will be a glorious feast of women's sport this summer - and do all we can to convert that profile into a meaningful legacy for women and girls in the future.

We've launched a campaign called Go Girl! not only to celebrate the achievements of our female Olympians, but to create a momentum which carries that spirit forward and makes 2013 the year when women's sport hopefully breaks through into the media and sponsorship mainstream. More information is available on the WSFF website. You can also follow us on twitter @wsff_uk.

This post forms part of the Government's blog series on body confidence which runs throughout 2012.