When my daughter turned nine, she asked for a new rugby ball for her birthday. My daughter has been throwing around a rugby ball since she was five years old. As a young girl, she was always one of the fastest up the wing to score the try with her ponytail flying in the wind. Connected to her inner athlete, she feels strong and aware of the possibilities of her body can do.
I recently considered getting table football for the garage after the kids loved playing up at the cricket club. My daughter pointed out something that had not crossed my mind before. She enquired "why do all the football tables always just have male figures? Girls play football too mum." The idea of this had me completely stumped and I did't really have an adequate answer to give her. What was the answer?
Some might argue that toy companies are just responding to the market. If the demand for female related sports products and merchandise is not high, then they simply don't produce them. But, girls and boys participate in youth sports fairly equally. In 2018, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, 31 percent of girls and 39 percent of boys ages 6 to 12 took part regularly in a team sport — not enough of a difference to account for the sports-toy discrepancy. So, I still didn't have an answer.
I searched Amazon again, this time, not for a rugby ball with unicorns on it (I'm unlikely to find that) but for table football with female players on specifically. When none appeared, I tried searching some other websites online. Eventually, I discovered one table with women players: a full-size model manufactured in 2011 by the Spanish design company RS Barcelona. It sold for an eye watering £3551.21. I will repeat...£3,551.21. It no longer appears on the company’s website.
So, in a nutshell, female football tables do not seem to exist. Or, not that I can find anyway. In some respects, this shouldn't be a surprise, but, after the amazing coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup and England coming in fourth place, I wondered if things might start to change?
Many of us want to see more women getting involved in sport at all levels. From the field of play to the boardroom – greater involvement from the media is needed, along with more companies backing and sponsoring women’s sport. When I started to research some reports, one called Women’s Sport: Say Yes to Success, shows that despite some positive developments in a handful of sports, the facts are that women’s sport still accounts for a pitiful 0.4% of the commercial investment going into all sports and for only 7% of total sports coverage in the media.
Soon, I began to notice the absence of female imagery in all sorts of sports-related toys. As I watch both my children, a daughter and a son both head off to play sports, I wondered why only one get to see mirrored in the equipment and the other is invisible.
When I was at school,I loved playing team sports. I would never say that I excelled in sport, but I was in all the A teams and I enjoyed them. As I reflect on my own childhood, I understand now more than ever the health benefits of getting kids into sport. Most of all, I feel children can learn so much for being part of a team: the comradeship and sense of belonging you get from all working towards the same goal.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer girls feel the same way I did about sport. How scary is it that only 12% of 14-year-old girls do enough physical activity to benefit their health? The reasons why stretch far and wide: from 48% of girls suggesting that sweating isn't feminine, to the common bad experience of physical education at school.
As my daughter kicks a football around the garden with her brother and prepares to be one of only three girls left in under 10's rugby, I hope she doesn't quit just because the girls are leaving. She plays because of the love of the game and nothing else. Her new coach has already emailed the parents to say "he is going to make U10's really fun" and she can't wait to get her hands on that odd shaped ball for another season. Writing this blog post almost makes me want to cry with pride.
In my view, it is an exciting time for women and girls in sport. We have an important role to play to raise the profile of girls in sport. But we need your help. So, please use your voice to spread the word far and wide.
Together we can change and raise the profile of girls in sport - one girl at a time...