Making Huge Strides
This summer, England won the Cricket World Cup, were runners-up in the Rugby World Cup and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA European Championships.
That’s an unprecedented level of success for a nation that perceives itself to be starved of success at the highest level.
But in women’s sport England squads are either at or very close to the pinnacle of sports that, with the exception of the football team in 1966, the rugby squad in 2003, and, at a stretch, the cricket team at the 2011 World T20, remain distant destinations for their male equivalents.
In fact, it’s the kind of success that, should it be achieved by any one of the male national sides, would be accompanied by stories of thousands of children being inspired by their heroes to take up the (relevant) game, ushering in years of dominance of said sport.
Of course, in reality, this sort of legacy is rarely delivered with such bursts of nationwide enthusiasm quickly diluted. Within two years of England’s incredible Ashes victory in 2005 the side were being dispatched from Australia with their tails between their legs while participation at home dwindled. Even the 2012 Olympics, designed to prompt a new attitude towards fitness, sports participation and healthy lifestyles amongst a whole generation, became a distant memory as austerity cuts reduced the amount of investment in school sport that would be vital to sustaining such a legacy.
So how can women’s sport buck this trend?
Speak to any female professionals in sports traditionally associated with male participation, such as football, rugby or cricket and they will tell you that the most fundamental challenge the women’s games face is of normalisation.
By this they mean for girls to begin (and, crucially, to continue) to see those sports as something that it is perfectly normal for them to participate in.
Not only is this a crucial factor in how sport is delivered in schools and grassroots club environments but it is also pivotal for the success of professional competitions such as the FA Women’s Super League in football or Kia Super League in cricket.
But it is more than that. It is also about normalising the participation of women in sport in the eyes of male players and fans, not least those who, up to certain age group levels, and often beyond, will compete on level terms alongside and against female team-mates and opposition.
Sponsors, as well as governing bodies, clubs and schools have a role to play in achieving this, providing opportunities for stars of the female game to lead brand campaigns that appeal to engaged audiences of football, rugby or cricket-crazy fans regardless of gender.
NatWest, the principal partner of England Cricket has recognised this through its Cricket Has No Boundaries campaign, the centrepiece of which is an arresting image of a young girl playing cricket.
As natural as you like and inspiring to boot.
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