Gender Equality


New research shows British public support athletes speaking out and driving social change

UK Sport research published on International Women's Day finds huge demand for more coverage of women's sport

New research shows British public support athletes speaking out and driving social change
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The British public overwhelmingly supports athletes using their platforms to speak out about social issues and advocate for change, according to new research published today by UK Sport.

The research also reveals that half (48%) of young Britons see female athletes as role models, together with huge demand for increased media coverage of women’s sport. More than half (53%) of adults under the age of 55 say that there is not enough coverage of women’s sport and 60% of all adults are in favour of sports coverage combining men’s and women’s sport.

Building on the Powered by Purpose programme, which helps athletes use their platform to inspire, facilitate and enable positive change, UK Sport’s Chair, Dame Katherine Grainger, has reiterated the organisation’s commitment to support athletes who want to champion issues and causes that they care passionately about.

Highlights from the research include:

  • Two in three UK adults (66%) believe that athletes have a role to play in championing causes they believe in and raising awareness of social issues.

  • There is huge demand for increased media coverage of women’s sport amongst the British public, with more than half (53%) of UK adults under the age of 55 saying that there isn’t enough media coverage of women’s sport.  

  • Half (48%) of 18-24 year olds and 45% of all Britons under 40 see female athletes as role models, demonstrating the rise of female athletes as prominent leaders in society, especially amongst younger generations.  

  • 7 in 10 Britons feel that there is more representation of female sports, presenters and sports pundits on TV today than previously, with 60% in favour of sports coverage combining men’s and women’s sports.  

  • Almost a third of UK families now follow a specific sport after being inspired by a female athlete.  

Dame Katherine Grainger, Chair of UK Sport, said:

The power and reach of elite women’s sport provides a vital and powerful platform to open up conversations about wider societal issues and contribute to positive change. It is fantastic to see the British public behind our inspiring athletes who want to make an impact and inspire change both on and off the field of play. Athletes should feel able to stand up and champion issues and causes that they care passionately about, confident that the British public and UK Sport – as well as other organisations across sport – will support them. We are living in exciting times and it’s encouraging to see female athletes smashing so many of the barriers that have previously denied them the recognition they’ve  deserved. Our sportswomen are incredible, inspirational athletes, just like their male counterparts. The suggestion of women’s sport being somehow less impressive or less newsworthy must end, and that means equal coverage in the media as a prerequisite instead of female athletes being expected to show gratitude for piecemeal changes or glacial progress. The sporting landscape is unrecognisable today compared to a decade ago, and we want to support athletes to inspire positive change and create greater awareness of social issues far beyond medals and their sporting achievements. We are committed to winning well, and that means using the power and platform of sport to have a positive impact on society and inspire change.   

Eilish McColgan, Commonwealth 10,000m gold medallist, said:

The positive reaction to my decision to start a conversation about the impact of periods and my menstrual cycle on my training and performance was really heartening. Sharing my own experience with women both in sport and across society, listening to other people’s experience and hopefully encouraging other people to speak out is one of the best things I ever did. I would encourage any athlete to speak out and use their platform. Opening up conversations about important issues helps us all to learn, grow as people and athletes and has a positive impact far beyond the track. It is really encouraging to see that the British public so strongly support athletes who want to champion important causes and speak out about issues they feel strongly about, and I know that younger athletes will feel more confident in sharing their experiences. 

Phoebe Paterson-Pine MBE, Para archer and gold medallist in individual compound at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, said:

The recent success of the Lionesses and the rise of women's football has been so influential in changing how football is perceived in the country, and I am thrilled to see the media covering women's sport more. It’s really encouraging to see that the British public are keen to see more equal coverage of sport and more coverage of women’s sport. We need to build on this momentum – there are so many brilliant, inspiring female athletes out there whose stories and achievements will inspire the next generation of Olympians and Paralympians.

Ruth Mwandumba, World Class Programme shooter and double English Shooting Champion, said: 

As more athletes are finding their voices and speaking out on social issues, it is really encouraging that the British public clearly support athletes who want to champion the important causes that we care about. For me personally, I am focused on trying to improve diversity and inclusion in shooting so there are more black shooters across the British shooting community and at an elite level. It is important for athletes to have the backing of national governing bodies and UK Sport in our efforts to use the power of sport to inspire change across wider society, giving athletes the confidence that we will be supported. Across British sport and all over the world we are going to see more athletes speaking out and making a stand to drive positive change and that can only be a good thing for sport and wider society.

Georgia Holt, Para-cycling tandem pilot and a member the UK Sport Powered by Purpose pilot cohort, said:

The research speaks for itself – women's sport is in high demand and so it should be. Female athletes have so much to offer, like breaking World Records while on our periods and speaking out about the issues we face on a daily basis. If young girls can relate to a female athlete about the issues they’re facing then this will positively impact them and even inspire them to take up a new sport or stay in sport for longer and reap the rewards of confidence, community, health, skills and maybe even a career!

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