Women in sport: we have to do something different!

By Professor Leigh Robinson

On October 8th, the Students Union at the University of Stirling held a Women in Sport Conference, at Stirling – Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence. The event was well attended, well organised and brought together a great range of speakers including Shona Robison – Cabinet Secretary for Sport, who opened the event setting out the mantra ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. This was in reference to the lack of women in positions on the Boards of sport governing bodies and to a general lack of visibility of women in sport.

However, as the day went on I began to feel a sense of ‘deja vu’…a sense of ‘I’m sure we’ve been here before’ and although I agreed wholeheartedly with much of what was said – much of it was very familiar. Despite decades of programmes and initiatives aimed at improving both the participation of women in sport and their role in the leadership of sport, we are not winning. The statistics associated with participation and leadership have barely changed during the past two decades, despite initiatives, interventions and programmes designed to change the situation. Indeed, Sportfirst – the magazine of sportscotland – reported that between 2008 and 2011 that participation in sport increased without any narrowing of inequality. Participation figures in 2008 were 54% for men and 43% for women – in 2013 they were 60% for men and 48% for women. Great to see an increase in participation – but nothing seems to be breaking down the inequalities that women face. We are still facing the same barriers, talking about the same issues and seemingly unable to do anything about it. Running like a girl is still an insult!

Things need to be very different and for me this requires a very different solution and some radical thinking. The two problems – inequalities in participation and leadership – are intertwined. A lack of participation means that the pool from which women can be selected for leadership positions is much smaller than that of men. The lack of female role models leading sport continues to promote the image of sport as a masculine domain..suggesting it’s not really a world for women to be involved in.

So…what’s the solution? First, I think we need to focus funding on participation and on the participation of young girls and accept that we have a couple of decades of work ahead. Participation is the key to this – those who lead sport come from those who are/have been involved in sport – more female participation underpins more female leadership. To support this, we should limit funding to initiatives that do not focus on building participation in young girls – not a popular things to do – but we need to stop spreading the resource too thinly. And then we need to:

  1. Don’t leave it too late: We need specialist PE teachers in primary schools….teaching physical education in a manner that does not put girls off sport for life is pretty technical and it seems a little unfair to expect classroom teachers to gain these skills with short CPD courses or by using on-line materials. I am sure that some excellent teaching happens this way, however, PE needs to be given the profile that is given to understanding society, science and IT. Sport is a lifestyle choice – …and education about that choice needs to happen as early as possible. Teaching sporting habits in secondary school is just far too late…girls who decide then that sport is for them are playing ‘catch up’
  2. Keep them at school: it needs to be easy for young girls to access physical activity and the need to leave school to take part in sport provides too many point where girls can just opt out. ‘The weather’s too bad to go back out again’…difficulties in getting dropped off close enough to the venue to be safe…all provide girls and their parents with the opportunity to choose alternatives to sport. Keeping them at school, in what is a familiar and safe environment for many girls removes these decisions. Delivery of sport and physical activity by clubs, local authorities and commercial providers out of the School stock not only provides opportunities, but will reinforce the important of participation as ‘obviously things done at school are important, part of education leading to a good future’”
  3. Mix it up: Sport should be mixed. If we want to tackle the ‘run like a girl’ belief, we need to show girls and boys (and men and women) that running like a girl looks pretty much the same as running like a boy. Why should there be sports that girls play and sports that boys play? I understand that there is a point where physical difference may make it tricky for girls to play with boys….but that point, in many sports, comes after potentially years of mixed play where kids ‘run like kids’.

These are somewhat radical solutions, which if implemented would change the face of how School sport is delivered. But we are at the point where radical is needed or in 10 years we’ll be back to discussing the same things as we did last Wednesday.

The Olympic Prize

London 2012 is over and Rio 2016 approaches. More spectacular ceremonies and a parade of impressive record breaking sport performances are expected. But who will excel?

Brian Minikin, Lecturer in Sport Management

At the Athens Games in 2004, with around 301 Gold medals up for grabs, only 56 countries out of 202 were able to win a Gold Medal. In fact only 74 countries could win any medal, less than half of the competing nations. In Beijing, there were 302 Gold Medal events and 205 competing nations. This time only 54 Countries were able to win a gold with one country, Panama making it onto the Gold Medal winning list for the first time. 81 countries were able to grab a medal though, so while it seems that the rich are getting richer, the poor are starting to make headway. In London, the story was much the same. Out of 302 gold medal events, 54 countries were able to secure a gold medal with 85 countries winning a medal.

From Oceania, the hosts of the 2000 Olympic Games, Australia, finished 4th overall with 16 gold medals and 58 medals overall and maintained their position in Athens with 17 Gold, 16 silver and 16 bronze medals, an outstanding achievement. In Beijing, Australia dropped to 6th place with 14 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze medals. A par performance one might say except that this time, the British finished ahead of Australia in 4th spot with 19 gold 13 silver and 15 bronze, perhaps a result of greater emphasis on sport as a result of winning the hosting rights for the 2012 Games. This trend continued into London with Great Britain moving into 3rd position with 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 Bronze, while Australia slipped to 10th with gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze.

Also with the emergence of China, Australia was bumped out of the top ten medal winning nations of all time in 2008 and still holds 11th place., behind Sweden and ahead of a rapidly improving Russia. It should be noted that the former Soviet Union and East Germany sit higher than Australia overall despite no longer competing.

In Athens, half of the Gold medals were secured by just 7 nations or about 3.4% of the competing nations while half of the overall medals won were secured by just 8 nations. In Beijing, half of the Gold medals were secured by 6 countries or 2.9% of the competing nations, the top 6 winning 52.6% of the available gold medals. The top eight countries won half of the overall medals available once again. For London, The top 5 countries won 50% of the medals available while 50% of the overall medals were won by 10 countries.

The pattern is very clear in that 50% of the total medal available are won by around 5% of the competing nations.

On the All Time medal table Australia holds 11th place with 138 Gold, 153 Silver and 177 Bronze. The Australians are still punching above their weight in world sport however now that the stimulus of hosting a Games appears to be wearing off, their standing in each edition is slowly slipping, while Brazil emerge as hosts to potentially fill the gap left by Australia. Greece are well down the list of all time medal winning nations but showed a significant spike in 2004 winning 6 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze medals. Greece has not won gold since. Chine also peaked in winning gold when hosting the Games in 2008 winning 51 gold medals. China slipped back to second position in London with 38 gold medals but moved up from 12th – 5th place on the all time list since Athens 2004. The USA consistently finishes either first or second on the medal table and appears less affected by not hosting the Games than other countries. They have however topped the medal tally every time they have hosted them.

95 countries have won a gold medal at the Olympic Games which means 120 have not achieved this. (note their are 216 countries listed, 11 of which are no longer competing e.g. West Germany, East Germany, Soviet Union)

146 countries have won a medal which 70 Countries are yet to win a medal.

The USA has won 976 Gold medals or 20.3% of all gold medals ever won. They have won 2,400 (16.3%) medals overall. Great Britain, currently third overall have won 236 gold medals or 4.9% of the gold medals awarded and 780 medals overall or 5.3% of the medals awarded.

6 Countries have won half of all the gold medals ever awarded. The Soviet Union remains in second place even though they haven’t competed as a team since the Seoul Games.

The top 10 Medal winning nations up to and including London 2012 are:

United States 976 758 666 2400
Soviet Union 395 319 296 1010
Great Britain 236 272 296 780
France 202 223 246 671
China 201 144 128 473
Italy 198 166 185 549
Germany 174 182 217 573
Hungary 167 144 165 476
East Germany 153 129 127 409
Sweden 143 164 176 483

It is interesting to note that 9 of the top ten countries on the all time medal winning list have hosted the Olympic Games. In fact 15 of the top 20 nations have hosted the Games with Hungary the highest ranking nation not to have hosted a Games, followed by Romania, both former Eastern Bloc nations. The lowest ranking host nation is Mexico at 48 followed by Greece at 34 and Spain at 32.

It is all food for thought but no matter which way you look at it, unless you belong to a country that has a well organised and systematic sport program, or your athletes have open access to an organised and systematic sports system, medals at Olympic level are really hard to come by. When we look at the history of the Games and the medal winning performances at the Olympic Games, it is most likely that Rio 2016 will throw up a similar medal winning pattern with Brazil as host possibly threatening for a top 10 place although based on their London performances this does not appear to be very likely.

Looking for ideas

“PLAY is the highest form of research” Albert Einstein.

As academics, we are constantly challenged by the need to secure research funding, undertake research and publish in credible journals. From this new knowledge becomes the basis for teaching, particularly in a research led Institution like the University of Stirling.

However research in sport is only meaningful if it contributes to the advancement of sport. Whether this is by improving nutritional ideas, training programs, testing regimes or management strategies, the research we do needs to contribute to the advancement of sport and its delivery.

To that end, we need your ideas. What are the burning questions that you ask, time and time again when it comes to sport? Why are some athletes better than others? Why after spending a lot of money do we find ourselves worse off than before.

Help us to find the right questions and we can help you find the right answers.

A Question of Readiness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOrganisational strategy should emerge from an assessment of the opportunities and challenges in the external environment and a diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of the internal environment. Of key importance in the development and implementation of strategy is the concept of matching capabilities of the internal environment with the opportunities available in the external environment. This encourages organisations to follow strategies that are appropriate for the needs of their organisation and within its resources.

However, the activities of many sport organisations in less developed sport systems are often determined by the availability of funds for particular programmes. For example, the Pacific Region National Olympic Committees and their associated national federations are heavily influenced by funding that is available from Olympic Solidarity for pre-determined activities. As this is the major, if not only, source of funding for these organisations this ‘ring-fencing’ of funding encourages managers to follow strategies which may not be appropriate for their size, level of development, or other resources. An example of this is the running of coach education programmes because funding is available despite the absence of a competition infrastructure that will enable coaches to practice what they are being taught.

In an attempt to address this, the research below is initial work on a framework being developed to help managers of sport organisations carry out a structured and comprehensive assessment of their internal environment. The aim of the research is to develop a structure that will help to identify the level of development that their organisation has attained and any associated organisational development needs. The objectives of the research are to identify the areas of performance or organisational pillars that make up a sport organisation; to determine the activities and attributes that constitute these pillars; and to determine whether these activities and attributes form a continuum of organisational development from a ‘basic’ organisation to an ‘elite’ organisation.

The research has taken an inductive approach where the findings of the research emerged from a series of four focus group discussions and activities held with senior staff and volunteers from Olympic sport organisations in the Pacific region. Participants in each focus group were asked to complete a number of tasks and the work of the first, second and third group formed the basis of the activities undertaken by the following groups. Content analysis of the research evidence led to the development of an initial framework made up of eight organisational pillars which are constituted by a continuum of activities and attributes. The ‘pillars’, with examples of their constituent attributes are: Governance (rules, policies); Management (structure, administration); Sport Activity (competition, events); Communication (methods, technology) Finance (budgeting, planning); Physical Resources (equipment, facilities); Human Resources (type, diversity) and Values (cultural, behavioural).

There appears to be a strong level of agreement that the eight identified organisational pillars contained elements that evolve as the organisation matures. Furthermore, these elements appear to demonstrate that it might be desirable for each of the Pillars to evolve in a more or less even manner in order to show sustainable growth and as such might for an excellent platform for determine the ‘Readiness’ of an organisation to undertake specific program or project initiatives regardless of the funding that is made available.

If you would like a copy of the full paper without the Attachments it is available for download from the ONOC Development Website in the documents section. Happy reading and all comments welcome..