Progress made, but more needed

Picture of SGSA Board members Jane Saywer, Jil Matheson, Susan Johnson, Janet Johnson and Rimla Akhtar

The Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) is proud of many things.  Since the establishment of the SGSA and our predecessor the Football Licensing Authority in the early 1990s, we have seen stadia develop to become safe, modern, welcoming venues for millions of people to enjoy watching sports.

On International Women’s Day, one thing we can be proud of is how we are led by a Board with a majority of female representation. Here, we talk to our Board members about sport, gender equality and how things have changed for women attending sports grounds.

How do you think the role of women in sport has changed over the years?

Susan Johnson: There is now a much greater representation of women in many sports, both as participants and commentators.  The shift in schools where young girls now take part and compete in those sports which were traditionally only available to boys has had such a significant impact on women coming through to compete at national and international levels.  However, there are still some sports where women are severely underrepresented; there are too few women on Boards and governing bodies of sport; media coverage of female sport lags so far behind the coverage of male sport; and addressing the pay and prize money gap in sport is long overdue.

Rimla Akhtar: I didn’t have any female role models in sport growing up – just my mother who encouraged me to be sporty!  Now, I’m glad to say, that we have an increasingly diverse range of women in the industry who young girls can look up to and want to emulate.

Jil Matheson: When I first became interested in sport it was unusual to see women continuing to participate beyond their early teenage years, even more unusual to see women’s sport on TV, and I can’t remember many, if any, female commentators or administrators.  So there’s been a lot of progress – although there’s a way to go yet.

Janet Johnson: Whether as participants, experts, pundits or, indeed, regulators women in mainstream sport is becoming the norm.

Do you think sports grounds have become more welcoming to women?

Rimla Akhtar: Having attended sports ground for over 20 years I would say definitely so.  I do think the level of welcome does depend on which ground and which sport, and particularly looking different in terms of ethnicity and faith.  As a visibly Asian and Muslim woman, I do not attend matches on my own because of the fear of discrimination linked to those aspects of my identity.  This is disappointing and I want the SGSA to help drive the work to make sports grounds a safer environment from this perspective as well.

Jil Matheson: In the UK, hugely.  You only have to look at old film footage of packed football grounds in the early decades of the 20th Century to see how rare women spectators were. But I was recently in Tanzania and decided to watch a Premier League match on a screen in a bar. I was asked whether it really was true that women attended football in the UK, sometimes even without their husband!

Susan Johnson: In many sports I would say definitely yes.  Sports grounds have finally woken up to the commercial opportunity of welcoming the other 50% of the population into their grounds and ensuring their facilities, stewarding and safety standards make watching sport enjoyable for everyone in the ground.

Janet Johnson: As someone who has been attending sports grounds for over 40 years I would say the environment and experience has changed almost beyond recognition.

What more steps do you think are needed to encourage more women to attend sports grounds?

Susan Johnson: Encouraging and developing more women commentators; bringing more girls and women through the education system into a variety of sports and their supporters, family and friends will come along with them; having more women in the management and leadership roles of sports bodies and clubs so they can influence the decisions on how sports grounds respond to the needs of all their current and future customers.

Rimla Akhtar: Providing an environment that caters to the needs and motivations of women will no doubt encourage more women to attend sport grounds.  I think more and more sports are adapting to the modern sports fan but more can always be done.  If those sports work better at engaging women and girls outside of match days, they will also be more likely to attend grounds regularly.

Jil Matheson: First get more girls playing sport, and encourage clubs to get more kids attending matches, providing a safe and enjoyable environment to enable them to do so.

Janet Johnson: One’s enjoyment of sport (beyond the quality of the sport itself) is affected by feeling safe, welcome and comfortable. Much has already been done to engender this environment but more can, of course, always be achieved, perhaps particularly in the case of away fans.

Pictured are Board members (Left to right) Jane Sawyers, Jil Matheson, Susan Johnson, Janet Johnson and Rimla Akhtar.