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Scottish Women in Sport must take advantage of Glasgow 2014 spotlight

Just six months have passed since the launch of Scottish Women in Sport, an organisation which, in short, aims to educate girls and women on the social and health benefits of taking part in sport, increase participation levels and also celebrate Scotland's elite female athletes.

Jayne Nisbet is one of Scotland's female athletes who could capture the nation's imagination at the Glasgow Games.  Picture: Getty Images
Jayne Nisbet is one of Scotland's female athletes who could capture the nation's imagination at the Glasgow Games. Picture: Getty Images

The first SWIS Conference will be held in a couple of weeks' time but Maureen McGonigle and Alison Walker, the founders, are under no illusions over the magnitude of the task they face in achieving these objectives.

Women's sport remains seriously under-represented and undervalued in Scotland. If ever there was an opportunity to improve the situation though, it is this year. A home Commonwealth Games, just as did a home Olympics, provides a platform for Scottish female athletes to be valued and appreciated in a way that is unthinkable at any other time. The opportunities London 2012 presented to women's sport were countless, yet few have been fully seized upon.

Glasgow 2014 will provide similar opportunities for women's sport and female athletes to grab the spotlight but, if this chance is missed, it is unlikely to be replicated for a generation. SWIS realises that it is imperative for everyone in Scotland to acknowledge the chance that will be presented in hosting the Commonwealth Games but in no way, do they see Glasgow 2014 as the end point.

"The drop-off rate after these major Games is a concern," said McGonigle. "That's why SWIS will still be here next year, and the year after; because we want to see long-term improvements, not  just short-term gains."

The absence of long-term effects is indisputably demonstrated by  the statistics post-London 2012.

The absence of any significant legacy - and the reasons for this - has been forensically dissected yet nobody appears able to suggest any definitive way to rectify this.

Jane Dennehy, co-founder of The Gender Hub who will speak at the SWIS Conference, has done an in-depth study into the legacy for females post-London 2012 and the figures do not look good. There has been little increase in participation figures for young girls, a group which started from such a poor base that improvements must surely have been a realistic goal.

For SWIS, Glasgow 2014 will provide a platform, will raise awareness of female athletes and will highlight implicitly what the organisation is all about. But far more resources must be poured into the areas that SWIS is working before significant improvements are forthcoming. It seems absurd, when one considers the wide-ranging benefits that increasing the participation of females in sport could potentially have, that so little money is directed towards this area. Personally, I have little concern about how many future world champions are produced as a result of Glasgow 2014. Rather, I believe the primary focus should be on getting more women, and in particular, young girls involved in sport.

The Commonwealth Games may spark an interest for females in a variety of sports, but it will not be sustained unless some of the other objectives that SWIS are trying to achieve are recognised.

McGonigle believes that one of the major challenges facing women in sport at the moment is the lack of representation on sporting boards.

She feels that there is currently a lack of diversity on many boards, with the presence of more females increasingly important as women realise the need for other women in sport. It is a view with which it is hard to disagree.

Scotland's national sport, football, is particularly deficient in this area, with not a single woman on their main board. Attitudes within football are gradually shifting, though. When it was announced last week that Helena Costa is to become head coach of the men's football team, Clermont Foot 63 in France - it is the most high-profile female appointment in the sport to date - this news attracted much publicity.

Yet the rapid acceptance of the players to her appointment illustrated that perhaps some of the anachronistic, casually sexist views which are so prevalent within football, are slowly dissipating.

There is plenty for SWIS to work on: the relative lack of exposure for Scotland's top female athletes in comparison to the men; the latent realisation for young girls that sport is a viable path for them to follow whether in elite or recreational sport; the shortage of female role models who emanate from the sporting sphere; and the lack of female representation on the boards of sporting bodies. All areas are in dire need of address.

The formation of an organisation such a SWIS is an important step forward in moving towards equality in sport, though there is a long way to go. The potential benefits of achieving the goals of SWIS would be incalculable to the health and confidence of women and girls in this country. Yet true equality will only have been achieved when sporting organisations do not need to specifically target women.

n Tickets for the first Scottish Women in Sport Conference, to be held on May 28, are available from scottishwomeninsport.wordpress.com

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