Coronavirus: How is women’s sport faring and what does future hold?

“Women’s sport has been left on the bench. We have to find a way to get women’s sport back up and running so they can continue to inspire the next generation, to make sure we don’t lose a cohort due to this disastrous cancelled summer.”

The coronavirus pandemic has affected sport across the world, and women’s sport is arguably the most at risk.

Major cycling, football and rugby events have been cancelled or postponed because of the crisis.

In a recent report, MPs warned that the cancellation of these events means women are less likely to be inspired to play sport, while the government has been urged not to sacrifice the women’s game in favour of the men’s.

The future looks uncertain, but is there a way back? Will Greenwood and Ebony Rainford-Brent joined Caroline Barker on Sky Sports for a special programme to discuss the impact of COVID-19.

‘Women’s sport has been left on the bench’

“We’ll come back stronger,” were the words of the FA’s Kelly Simmons within the announcement that the WSL’s final standings would be reached by a basic points-per-game basis.

The final positions in the Tyrrells Premier 15s were calculated on a ‘best playing record formula’ after its season was terminated in March.

At the end of May, the Vitality Netball Superleague had the results of their 2020 matches deemed null and void, and now some clubs are having to reach out to fans in order to try and raise the funds needed to keep them afloat.

“Anyone with a fingernail of common sense can see the role women’s sport plays in our society,” Will Greenwood told The Women’s Sport Debate. “I think what’s happened off the back of COVID-19 is while men have been given VIP access to the stadiums and the funds to get back on the field, women’s sport has been left on the bench and disproportionately so.

“We have to find a way to get women’s sport back up and running so that they can continue to inspire the next generation, to make sure we don’t lose a cohort due to this disastrous cancelled summer.”

‘Women’s sport has commercial power’

Funding for women’s sport also continues to be an issue. Two months after the Premier 15s season was terminated, Tyrrells – the competition’s significant investors – announced their decision to “redirect” their marketing spend “in line with overarching business objectives”.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) has criticised the lack of funding for women’s elite sports, and Ebony Rainford-Brent insists women’s sport must make the most of its commercial potential.

“I don’t think we focus on the data enough and what I mean by that is the uplift data, the data that shows how big the market is, how big the potential is to grow the game,” she said.

“Cricket for example over the last year has seen some amazing statistics that to me blow my mind and suggest ‘can we invest more?’

“So an example would be the ICC – 1.1bn video views on the ICC digital channel. Now if you’re a sponsor and you heard that data would you not think straight away ‘there is something to get involved in, there is something moving.’ You think about the 2017 World Cup here we had here in England which had a packed audience as well, on Sky that was the most viewed cricket game that summer.

“I came back from Australia earlier in the year where there was a crowd of 86,000 people watching, one of the most watched female sporting events of all time.

“To make women’s sport commercially viable and to attract sponsors, I don’t think we get the data out there enough. These numbers are powerful. You go to any sponsor and tell them this is what the sport is offering, they would snap your hands off.

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