Women’s sport. A film about the opportunity for girls and women to succeed in sport.

This film is about the opportunities for girls and women to partake in sports. Focusing on Rugby and Football, I investigate what paths girls can go through to achieve. With opinions from Saracens head of rugby development Edward Clark and Kait Borsay of the Offside Rule podcast I try to help come to a conclusion about the future of women’s sport.

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RFU launch Women’s Super Rugby. What does this mean?

With the introduction of a new women’s Super Rugby League to be introduced in September 2017, this exemplifies the raise is skill and want from fans for women’s rugby. Women’s rugby is still mostly classed as amateur this league will surely invite more girls into the sport. Saracens Women, Wasps FC Ladies, Harlequin FC are some of the teams to be invited to play.

Women’s rugby isn’t anything new. The Women’s Rugby Premiership was founded in 1990 has been playing side by side with the men’s game since then. Women’s rugby mirrors the men’s. They have the same competitions. The Women’s Rugby World Cup in France 2014 was won by England. In a comparison between the men’s and women’s World Cup’s on 2011 and 2014 it showed that the women’s game shadows the men. Overall 70% of the points scored in the women’s game was tries while the men’s points from tries was only 58%. This suggests more of a free flowing game with less breakdowns and to many more entertaining.

The current Six Nations broadcasted by the BBC and Sky Sports show the want for women’s rugby. The dominance of the Home Nations help too. The past Olympic Games in Rio included for the first time rugby seven’s. A faster paced game than the normal 15, both genders put on a great display. The popularity for rugby may have had some impact to create Women’s Super Rugby. The RFU director Nigel Melville said: “Women’s Super Rugby will drive standards in the game, both domestically and at an elite level, and continue to encourage more women and girls to play the sport.

“We now have the opportunity to build a world-class domestic competition, with the backing and funding of the RFU, demonstrating the union’s commitment to growing the game at all levels.”

Edward Clark, head of rugby development at Premiership club Saracens FC said on the Women’s Premiership: “To be part you have to demonstrate that you are going to go out and work in the community and push and make sure that women’s rugby and girls rugby more specifically grows at a lower age.

 The fact that the governing bodies are looking at it and saying if you want to play at the highest level part of your demonstration is to say ‘we are going to commit to growing our game from the bottom up.”

 According to This is England Women’s Rugby, a report from England rugby, in 2013 15,500 women and girls were registered to play rugby at the start of the 2013. Where once their aim for 2017 was 25,000 it’s now doubled. The RFU has set their sights on achieving more. For women’s rugby, this is a sign of improvement

 The growth in popularity of women’s rugby has resulted in more faith by the RFU to commission Women’s Super Rugby. The success of the UK’s national team and the participation at grassroots level supports this. It looks to be a bright future for women’s rugby and will soon help it grow 100,000 strong.

The other teams who’ll make up the ten for the Women’s Super League in September can be found HERE

WSL 2 – Women’s Super League. Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

April 2011 saw the introduction of the Football Association Women Super League and with it brought new and exciting women’s players who make up the two divisions of the women’s football league. Fast forward five years and the Super League 2016 now consists of 19 teams split to ten in the first and nine in the second division. As you may expect the ‘big’ clubs dominate the first tier. Manchester City are the holding champions with Arsenal and Chelsea on their heels.

I went to a WSL 2 match to gain a feel of premier women’s football. This was part of the Spring Series. A competition to “bridge the gap” between breaks in the season. It previewed to be hard-fought game between home side London Bees – who share the Hive stadium with League 2 Barnet FC. – and visitors Oxford United Women. Walking past the residential area the sprinklers were readying the pitch for the game and a one man further down shepherding the queue of cars coming in. A good sign for the attendance. Yet I learned that as well as being a football stadium it also loaned itself out to the public. Kids training was taking place in one of the artificial turf playing surfaces and inside the café was the stairs to the gym. A local club if ever there were one.

In recent history women’s football attendance has risen averaging 1,128 and 443 respectively and in a 2pm kickoff the London Bees saw 479 fans attend. One lone spectator said before the match “I thought it was the guys game, that’s why I came. (…) “I’ll stay for the first half, I might be surprised thought.” Bees captain Ashleigh Goddard answered his doubts as she led her team to a comprehensive win, scoring one in a 3-1 win.

While it’s important to recognise the achievements of professionals competing for club and country, the importance of the spread of women’s sport is sometimes overlooked. Televised women’s sport and its promotion is paramount for its success. BT Sport televise the first tier of the Women’s Super League which puts women’s football further than it’s ever been before. It’s support from the Women’s Premier League in which winners promote themselves to the WSL have given British women’s football more depth. The strength of women’s football has only got stronger. In 2017 Manchester City signed Carli Lloyd. Part of the USA team to win gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and the 2015 FIFA World Cup in Canada, the WSL just got a whole lot harder.

The broadcast from the BBC, BT Sport and others shows good signs of development but there are some improvements to be made. Given the arrival and popularity of other formats to cover sports events, surely it should replicate and learn from the broadcasters. Using social media has become part of the media landscape with many WSL teams using it to help themselves. Even with the new technology the women’s game still lacks behind the men’s. For example: Arsenal and the ladies’ team’s Twitter’s vary widely. The men’s team has 9.3 million followers while their counterparts only have one hundred and fifty-eight thousand followers.

It’s difficult not to compare the women’s game to the men’s because WSL teams deliberately couple themselves with the men’s club to gain more fans. Nowadays it’s hard to find a cultured football fan who doesn’t know anything about women’s football. Kait Borsay, a freelance broadcast journalist who has previously worked for Sky Sports and Talksport now presents The Offside Rule podcast talked to me about her views on the current state of women’s football.

“Of course it doesn’t get the media exposure to get the coverage on broadcast or in print but it’d be a bit unfair to compare one and the other because the men’s game is just in a different place in this country. I think the big thing to focus on that it’s growing and it’s in a better place than it used to be.”

 This optimism for the women’s game is well substantiated as the 2015 World Cup in Canada with a total attendance of 1.3 million and where  England beat Germany to win third place – their best result – brought in a whole new fan base and coverage from the British media partly because of the Offside Rule. Kait found that “our content was going everywhere (…) because it caught the attention of the nation. The men’s football was doing badly so it was good to have some good news relating to football.”

The Women’s Super League is just one cog on the wheel for women’s football to become a mainstay in people’s thoughts. The participation from the media and the local community to support any level of women’s football is most important for young girls and women to continue in football and sport in general. The 472 people in the crowd for the London Bees WSL 2 game doesn’t seem like much but in the grand scheme of things if the Bees were to average this across this season, they’d be doing better than average. If you live near to or know of a WSL 1 or WSL 2 team it doesn’t take much to go down to watch and support them. The WSL is constantly growing with the support they have from their fans and some of the media, yet doesn’t compete with the men’s. The 3-1 win for the London Bees and the passion showed by the fans proves that even with attendances a fraction of the Premier League, women’s football can be competitive and something people want to watch.

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