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Speech Minister of Sport at the handover of the International Working Group on Women and Sport

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Thank you to New Zealand for your generous hospitality.

I am genuinely delighted to attend today’s event, which begins the official transfer of the International Working Group on Women and Sport from New Zealand to the UK.

It’s great that the event can take place at the same time as Birmingham 2022, which will, once again, have the largest women’s sports program in Commonwealth Games history and will be the first time a major multi-sport event will take place. There are more medal events for women than for men and I think that’s fantastic.

I am absolutely committed to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity – pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities and visibility in the media. The fantastic success of the Lionesses this weekend shows how far we have come.

The UK has a strong track record and history of empowering women and girls through sport. There is still a long way to go, but we have a lot to be proud of in this area.

The media profile of women’s sport continues to rise and recent research shows that two-thirds of British sports fans are currently following some form of women’s sport, and half have attended an event featuring female athletes.

Our domestic initiatives, such as This Girl Can, inspire millions of women and girls to become physically active. Something that is especially important as we recover from the pandemic.

We’ve also seen audience growth for women’s sports.

Recent research published by Womens Sport Trust shows that domestic women’s sport attracted a record number of UK broadcasts of nearly 33 million in 2021, with the main drivers being The Hundred and the FA Womens Super League.

And the leading role of certain media outlets is very important, including the BBC, which made the strategic decision to ensure that many of those matches were on BBC One, during peak times. It worked. This showed that there is a mass audience for women’s sports. And that’s crucial. When the apples of the eye are there, the money and business opportunities begin to flow. Rather than just doing it because it’s the right thing to do, we’re going to have more and more competition to hold these events and make sure these events are on TV because they’re commercially viable and commercially lucrative.

And a record crowd of over 87,000 attended this year’s UEFA Women’s Euros final – the most attended match at a men’s or women’s European Championship. I was lucky enough to attend some of the matches including the final and I can honestly say there was an excellent atmosphere. The spectators were balanced and more importantly, more than 100,000 children were spectators in those matches. I know the whole nation will be inspired by the Lionesses.

Record sponsorship deals have also been signed with women’s sports leagues, such as Barclays sponsoring the Womens Super League, the premier women’s football league in England.

And the UK will host a number of high profile women’s sporting events this year, including the Rugby League World Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup. Plus Birmingham 2022 of course, which is happening right now.

We work tirelessly to make the most of these events by promoting women’s sports and, as a result, encouraging more women and girls to get active. But we recognize that we need to go further.

The IWG is a great opportunity to build on this success and not only share the great work we do, but also learn from other countries.

The UK Secretariat’s vision for a just and sustainable post-pandemic world in which women and girls play a full and just role is something I am passionate about.

It is vital that we continue to strive for greater equality and opportunity in sport.

We have been working with our women’s sports working group in the UK, in which many of you have participated, to look at some of the challenges and opportunities that exist and I am very keen that we continue to make progress as a result of these discussions.

I would also like to commend the work of the current hosts New Zealand in sharing, promoting and supporting stories of inspiring change from around the world.

Their development of the world’s first IWG Insight Hub as a home for the world’s best research, insights, case studies, news, and interactive programs such as training and seminars was also groundbreaking.

I believe the IWG can be a catalyst for women’s sport as we recover from the impact of the pandemic.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the role you have all played in securing the IWG Secretariat for the UK.

It is absolutely essential that we work together collectively to share the messages behind the offer of inclusiveness, equity and collaboration.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that women’s sport continues to thrive not only in the UK but also on the international stage.

Sources

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2/ https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/minister-for-sport-speech-at-international-working-group-on-women-and-sport-handover

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