Cardiff Metropolitan University recently held a student led question and answer session with elite female athletes and pioneers of the women’s game.
The event gathered staff and students from across the university in front of a panel of notable sports people to discuss female sport and the action needed to tackle inequalities facing women in sport at all levels.
Student Vice President, Will Fuller and Sport and Physical Education student, Daisie Mayes hosted the event and prompted discussions surrounding the panel’s own experiences of women in sport, the barriers they have faced and practical ideas to help overcome the challenges that women in sport face today.
The panel highlighted the need for more funding, sponsorship and better salaries in female sport to help develop and support players and lessen the gap in opportunities between male and female equivalent sports, as well as discussing media coverage of female sport and the need for equal representation of women on sports boards.
Guest speakers on the panel included: Michaela Breeze MBE, who won Gold at the 2006 Commonwealth and competed at two Olympic Games; former journalist and broadcaster Rhiannon Gibson, now CEO of Welsh Gymnastics; Caroline Spanton, WRU National Women’s Rugby Manager; Scott Simpson, Head of Coaching and Performance for Welsh Athletics; Rosie Eccles, Cardiff Met Student and Professional boxer, Welsh Elite British Champion 2015/2016; Dan Clements, Head of Performance at Hockey Wales and previous Head of Performance at Rugby League; Cardiff Met Alumni Jo Westwood, from Hockey Wales and Swansea Spartans; Kevin Moggridge, Coach of England Women under-20s; and Manon Carpenter, professional racing cyclist, and double World Champion at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships and UCI World Cup Downhill Mountain Bike Series 2014.
Highlights from the event included Michaela Breeze’s discussion of the cultural barriers she overcame to compete professionally in weightlifting, including the fight to be respected in the gym and to overcome discrimination. Michaela reiterated that there needs to be more funding and support for rising talent to progress professionally in sport and that there are still too many men on boards potentially holding the women’s game back.
Welsh Rugby Union National Women’s Rugby Manager, Caroline Spanton said: “We have seen a huge positive change in media coverage of Women's rugby, with the Women's Six Nations Championship being broadcast live at each fixture for the first time ever and its impact has been significant. We saw approx 83,000 watch our England game on BBC alone plus a live audience of 4,500 bigger than we have ever had previously.
“Our elite players still have to balance a successful sports career with work which is challenging when we are competing against teams with full time professionals. We need to continue to do more to ensure women's voices are heard at all levels of sport and ensure our structures suit and support women to not only take part in Rugby in my instance, but also for them to take on different roles within sport such as Committee positions, refereeing and coaching.”
Both Scott Simpson and Rhian Gibson also emphasised the issue of board diversity and the need for more business-minded individuals in sport, to help develop and drive the game further for women from a business aspect.
The event was held as part of a series of university events throughout March to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Cardiff Met student, Zoe Holloway said: “A great panel of guests was secured for the evening, which would be a great addition to the annual calendar for students and lecturers to come together to learn from elite athletes, coaches and professionals out in the sporting industry world.
“It was very relevant to my MSc in Sport Management and Leadership studies, particularly Rhian Gibbs speaking about women on governance boards and how sport NGBs are having to adapt become more business focused.
“It is important to raise awareness of the barriers and also the celebration of female sport.
Being a triathlete I found downhill mountain cyclist Manon Carpenter inspiring and how hard she works training for her sport, to reach World class level while completing her degree, was especially interesting.”
Cardiff Met Student Vice President, Will Fuller said: “The Women in Sport event was a fantastic opportunity for students and staff to hear from world class athletes and coaches who are at the forefront of women's sport. The panel brought to life some of the barriers they have faced during their careers and the ways that as athletes and members of governing bodies they're trying to improve women's sport.
“The panel were incredibly open and honest about their personal journeys which included sneaking out in the early hours to avoid questions from family and wider social perceptions of their involvement in sport. It was fantastic to host such a prestigious event in the Students' Union and we hope to continue to promote both women's sport and similar events in the future."
Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Professor Cara Aitchison said: “Cardiff Met has a long and established track record for sport performance, sport education and sport research and this event celebrated these successes whilst also exploring the challenges that women in sport continue to face.
“I was delighted to play a role in introducing this student-led event with its impressive list of invited guest speakers and role models including World, Commonwealth, British and Wales champions, head coaches, managers and chief executives of national teams, and professionals from the world of sport media. By agreeing to speak with students and answer their questions from the floor, the event served to inspire our student athletes about the success that they too can achieve and, where support is available, ensure that they can be the very best versions of themselves in sport.”