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14 Dec 1999 : Column 24WH

Sport Funding

11.30 am

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): I have great pleasure in introducing this Adjournment debate--my first in Westminster Hall--on equal funding for men and women in sport. The emphasis of the debate is on boosting the position of women in sport. In this country, women in sport get a raw deal from the private sector in terms of sponsorship, pay and prize money, as well as from individuals, sports associations and television. Women also get a raw deal from the state through virtually all its agencies: central and local government, sports councils, centres of excellence and lottery funds. They certainly get a raw deal overall. In fact, the situation is so bad that many women are discouraged from pursuing their sport, even though they clearly have talent.

The situation in the United States is very different, at least with regard to federal funding. The Education Amendment Acts of 1972 included a provision known as Title IX. Apart from some exemptions--for example, for colleges controlled by religious organisations or the military--Title IX forbids any education programme that receives federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex. It provides that federal aid to any programme or institution that refuses to comply may be terminated. Title IX ensures equal funding and equal opportunities for athletics programmes in US schools and universities, regardless of sex. That policy is not only fairer but has been rewarded with success.

In July, the United States women's football team won the women's world cup in sell-out stadiums. About 90,000 people saw the final at the Rose Bowl and another 40 million people watched it on television. My American friends, mostly men, were enormously excited at the achievement of their team. One said to me, "You should have a debate on Title IX in Parliament."

The International Herald Tribune of 3 July attributed the success of their team to Title IX and said:

Before the law in 1972, one girl participated in school and college sport for every 27 boys; now the figure is one to three. Before Title IX, only one in 27 women in high school played sport. That number has risen to one in nine. Sports scholarships are now more readily available to young women. On 28 June, Reuters reported that many of the most recognisable sports stars in the United States are now women: Sheryl Swoopes of the basketball team the Houston Comets; the tennis

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professionals, Venus and Serena Williams; and Juli Inkster, who won the Ladies Professional Golf Association championships. It said:

    "Assured, aggressive and media-friendly, they and the US women's soccer team are a far cry from the earliest American female athletes, who were relegated to such ladylike sports as badminton and archery, which could be played in long dresses."

The publisher Suzanne Grimes said:

    "There is now a whole generation for which sport has become a natural part of their lives."

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): Is my hon. Friend aware that, in one sport, the very ladylike sport of chess, less than 4 per cent. of the annual UK grant of £50,000--itself a small amount--goes to the women's game? Is that not appalling, in view of the real progress being made by women and girls in that sport? For example, Harriet Hunt, the women's top board at the recent European team championships in Georgia was the first UK player to capture a board one gold, defeating strong women grand masters from Ukraine and Hungary. That success is replicated around the country. In my constituency, the Cheddleton and Leek club scored seven victories when seven girls entered the junior congress in Staffordshire.

Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend makes her point well. I know that she has campaigned on that issue. The disproportionate funding for women in that game is mirrored in other sports.

What a contrast there is between the United States and Britain. We are increasingly becoming a nation of couch potatoes, and in addition women are discouraged from taking up serious sport. Old sexist attitudes die hard--in fact, they are not dead at all. Buster Mottram is quoted in the Daily Mirror of 8 October. He said:

We know that, in several countries, traditional culture or religion can pose barriers to women in sport. For us, the attitudes are stupid, sexist and deeply old-fashioned. The Independent on 14 July stated:

    "But for all the men's complaints, Title IX has brought a sharp increase in girls' participation in sport that contrasts favourably with the decline in Britain, where the squeeze on extra-curricular activities and the sell-off of playing fields have contributed to a precipitate fall in school sport that has disproportionately affected girls."

On 4 July, referring to the women's world cup, the Observer said:

    "Unfortunately, for Britain--still hidebound when it comes to popular attitudes to women in sport--we had no part in the finals. England, the highest rated British team, finished last in the qualifying group. Britain is not yet near to catching up Nixon-era America. Only about half of Britain's state schools offer football to girls as well as boys"-- I suspect that that is at varying levels of quality. Kelly Simmons, the FA women's football coach, said:

    "It is unfortunately dependent on the school having a PE teacher with an interest to push the sport." The Observer concluded:

    "There is no requirement for British schools to offer equal sports opportunities to both sexes. Britain is doomed to watch this revolution from the substitutes' bench of history."

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It is a great struggle for women competitors to train and compete properly. The Daily Mirror of 29 September referred to Sarah Winckless, the 25-year-old rower who hopes to take part in next year's Olympics. She relies on national lottery funding, sponsorship from Virgin and part-time work to stay afloat while she trains. Of course, the equipment she needs is very expensive. She cannot even afford to start a pension because she does not earn enough.

In January, The Daily Telegraph reported a funding crisis in women's hockey. The women's hockey team had to cancel a tour of Australia in the build-up to the Olympics, and the appointment of a national co-ordinator was put on hold. Junior development programmes were completely dispensed with, and the UK Sports Council cut much of its world-class performance plan for hockey. One person said that lottery funding is okay for individuals, but not for teams, such as hockey teams. I do not know if the situation has changed since January, and whether the players did in fact go on tour, but it was certainly a great disruption to their effort in preparing for world-class standard.

Women's football in this country does not meet international standards. Women footballers are paid next to nothing and given little access to top-class facilities. Lilleshall, the national footballing centre, makes no provision for girls while thousands of pounds are spent on each boy. Our best women footballers have to seek scholarships in the US. There is a slow increase in the linking of local women's teams with men's league clubs. That is a good thing, but it often amounts to little more than just providing them with the kit. Sometimes that is unhelpful because the clubs are tied to a single sponsor and the women's teams are precluded from finding their own funding.

The Football Association lives up to its initials as far as women's soccer is concerned. After the first world war, larger crowds attended women's soccer matches than men's, so the FA banned those games. It is still not interested in women's soccer. How about equal access to and use of the new Wembley stadium?

There is a problem in our schools. The Scotsman on 3 February reported that girls are poorly served by mixed physical education classes and PE instructors are often insensitive to equal opportunities because they mark girls down. It referred to the trend of making PE a boys-only option. That is outrageous. Television, including the BBC, fails properly to cover and promote women's sport. When the television cameras are on, they are pointed at male athletes. Only 5 per cent. of sports coverage is devoted to female athletes.

There are serious health and safety implications in our approach to women's sport. A report this week shows that the United Kingdom tops the heart disease league in Europe, but there is a trend, of which Princess Diana was a good role model, of women pursuing health and fitness in the gymnasium and through sport beyond their teenage years--for instance, hundreds of women compete in the London marathon. Women want to keep fit and, if they have the opportunity to do so, their sons and perhaps even their husbands will follow them. That will improve health and sport in general.

I want to express my own brand of chauvinism, which is British chauvinism. I want us to win more prizes and

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medals, but we are underperforming. Boosting women's sport would increase our medal count and, in the long term, improve our men's performances.

What is to be done? I urge the Minister to prepare a comprehensive programme, with equal opportunities at its core, involving all official sports bodies. Schools and PE instructors must be included. We should open gyms, sports centres, playing fields and swimming pools so that women have equal access at an affordable price. The lottery should be forbidden to discriminate against women's sport; in fact, it should be required to boost it. No state money should be given to the official sports associations unless they have realistic women's sport development programmes. Lilleshall and the centres of excellence should operate effectively on behalf of women athletes. We should also encourage television, newspapers and advertising agencies to elevate the profile of sportswomen so that, as role models, they get young girls into sport.

Let us have a Title IX to get on track to winning. Earlier this year, President Clinton said:

11.45 am

The Minister for Sport (Kate Hoey): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) on securing the debate. This important issue has not been discussed specifically in the House for a long time and the debate is overdue. I also welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins). It is good to see her here.

Many women believe that there is an injustice in the way in which funding for sport is distributed. More women than ever find that regular physical exercise improves health, self-confidence and well-being. There has been huge growth recently in women's team sports, especially football and rugby, which are among the fastest growing sports. The Government's sport for all policy is designed to ensure that that trend continues.

As more women recognise the benefits of sport, it is important that they and their sports are able to access funding. However, it is vital that funding is not given for the sake of it as an artificial way of making up for past imbalances. As with all funding, we must ensure that it is properly targeted. Money that is given to women's sport must help to identify sporting potential and attract more women and girls into sport.

I met a large number of governing bodies of all sports over the past few months including those that represent women's sports, such as rugby union, football, cricket, netball and hockey. I also met the Womens Sports Foundation. We explored how to give women's sport a higher profile and I heard important views on the recent equal opportunities report. Those organisations were keen to raise many of the issues that were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead. They told me about the difficulties that women's sport

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and minority sports, which might be played by men, have in obtaining sponsorship. They highlighted the problem of the link between sponsorship and media coverage. There is no doubt what difference it makes for women's sport to get coverage on terrestrial or satellite television. The women's netball team's recent bronze-medal win in the world championship in New Zealand was shown on the BBC's terrestrial programme "Grandstand" on Sunday afternoon. It had a huge impact on people who had not seen netball since their school days. It was clear how much the sport had changed; it is now faster and more professional. When I watched the team play, the game was very different from my days as captain of the school netball team.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport works closely with the sports councils and Departments across Whitehall, including the women's unit in the Cabinet Office, to consider what more can be done to use sport to help women in other aspects of their lives. I am keen that sport, be it men's or women's, is not an add-on or sideshow, but a central part of Government policy, because it can deliver in many ways. For example, it has an impact on social exclusion and helps to reduce crime and drug dependency among young people.

Recent research by the Womens Sports Foundation in America shows a clear link between sport and teenage pregnancy. Young teenagers are much less likely to become pregnant if they are involved in active sport and recreation. They have greater self-esteem and self-confidence. I want us to do more work on that so that we prove it through research--although it is common sense to me--and women's sport gets the funding that it deserves.

The subject of our debate is equal funding for men's and women's sports. Funding is an important part of ensuring that women are able to participate in sport and physical activities at both the grass roots and elite levels, but we must ensure that we remove all the barriers that discourage women from participating. We must further ensure that the funding is used wisely to the benefit of everyone.

More than £6 million of Exchequer funding goes to sports governing bodies. As one of the conditions of that funding, all governing bodies are required to have proposals for the development of women's sport. That did not happen in the past, but it is now making a difference to each governing body. That money also funds activities that are specifically designed to encourage more women and girls into sport. Moreover, all sports bodies are required to demonstrate how women's sport will be encouraged as part of any application to the lottery sports fund. Lottery funding requirements mean that all facilities should operate non-discriminatory access policies and their marketing policies and programmes of use should ensure inclusion.

Organisations that cannot prove that they are doing that have already been refused funding. It is making a real difference to sports clubs' approach towards women. They may not be changing for the right reason, but they are having to change and to think through how funding is to be spent. The new rules have helped to raise the issue of discriminatory practice in club membership. Perhaps more than anything, they are helping to increase women's participation rates, including in some of the sports that have traditionally been seen as male dominated.

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The world-class performance programme is another lottery-funded initiative. Of the 1,351 athletes--in the widest sense--currently supported by it, 596 are women, which means that they receive almost 45 per cent. of the total funding of £84 million. That is a real improvement and shows that women are reaching the higher levels in terms of funding. It does not solve the problem of how to get more women to come through, but when they have come through and their talent has been identified, they are receiving their share of world-class performance funding. As well as going to individuals, that money has gone to team events such as women's rugby and women's cricket.

The subject of equal prize money frequently comes up, especially in relation to Wimbledon. Everyone would accept that the contribution that sportswomen make to sporting competitions is just as good as that of men--if not better in many cases. The organisers and governing bodies have the final say on how much money people will be paid, but the subject is continually reviewed.

Although there is some good news, I want to improve the rate of women's participation in sports generally. Clearly, if we get things right at the base and ensure that more women and young girls come in, our strength in sports will be greater and our importance to sponsors and the media will increase. Together with colleagues at the Department for Education and Employment, I am studying recent research into what turns young girls off physical education and school sport.

Changes in the national curriculum for physical education will allow more flexibility at key stage 4, which I hope will help to ensure that young girls stay involved in some kind of sport and recreation. We must capture their interest and remember that many young girls in their early teens--a difficult age--are concerned with how they look and do not want to mess up their hair. They are concerned with their image and self-esteem, and the issue must be handled carefully; that is why a good physical education teacher can make all the difference. We are working with the Department for Education and Employment to ensure that we get things right in schools for girls and that physical education teachers are well trained and able to cope with the problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead referred.

The issue of Title IX was prominent in my hon. Friend's speech. It governs the overall equity of treatment and opportunity in educational establishments. Clearly, it has been working in the United States, although there are different views on how successful it has been. Much evidence suggests that it has been successful in terms of participation, but some argue that it can hold back women's participation in some high-profile sports. It is also extremely difficult to enforce because, even on the rare occasions when schools and colleges have been taken to court, the penalty for non-compliance has hardly ever been dished out.

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As my hon. Friend will know, sports structures in the United Kingdom are very different from those in America. In the United States, the highly commercialised sporting college concept is dominant, while the sports governing bodies are dominant here. It is not at all clear that the United Kingdom governing bodies as presently constituted would be able to meet the legal Title IX requirements for equal opportunities between men and women, especially without a greater commercial impetus. The Women's Netball Association pointed out that, if Title IX applied here, the Sports Council might have to withdraw funding from the English women's netball team if it could not demonstrate that it was providing equally for boys as well as girls. There are also problems in other sports.

I would not like anyone to think that all the women's sports governing bodies are keen to go down the Title IX route, because they are not. They are, however, keen to ensure that support continues to flow to women's sport from the national lottery. They also want to ensure a higher profile for debates about how we project women's sport, how we win more sponsorship and how we ensure that the media see women as sportswomen and not as women first, which is the angle that the newspapers take at the moment. We must work together to build on the magnficient achievements of some of our famous sportswomen. My hon. Friend referred to many in America, but let us not forget our role models: Mary Peters, Virginia Wade, Tessa Sanderson, Sally Gunnell and Tanni Grey are all excellent athletes, and more are coming on. I hope that we will achieve more successes at next year's Olympic games.

There are definitely some good news stories, but my hon. Friend is right to draw this issue to our attention. We must be careful that we do not assume that everything will automatically be all right if we carry on as we are. We must continually examine what we are doing and measure results to ensure that we give youngsters in particular the opportunities to get into sport. We have a solid foundation on which to build from the way in which the lottery has worked and how its equity principles have affected the thinking of sports governing bodies. Even the governing bodies that once seemed to take no interest in women's sport are now having to change.

We are determined to get more women to participate in sport at all levels. We must continue to produce athletes who will be the best in the world so that, as my hon. Friend said, they will win medals for this country and make us proud of our achievements--nothing makes us feel better than doing well at sport. I want to ensure that our country's success is measured not only in mainstream team sports such as cricket, rugby and football; there are many other good things going on in sport and in women's sport, and we must ensure that those achievements are trumpeted. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing this debate. I shall take back to my Department all the points that he raised.

12 noon

Sitting suspended.

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