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Why sport needs women

By Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson

Britain's most successful Paralympian

It has long been recognised that women face many barriers in terms of being actively involved in sport. Not only in terms of women actually participating in sport (it seems the dramatic drop-out rate that seems to occur in the post-16 age group has been known for as long as I can remember) but in terms of the role women play as coaches, volunteers and leaders in sports governing bodies.

In order to help tackle this, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham will announce on Tuesday the formation of a commission to look at issues that have been raised by the annual Women in Sport audit of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation.

I have the great pleasure of being asked to chair the commission and I will be joined by double Olympic gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes and Millwall Football Club executive deputy chairman Heather Rabbatts among others.

The commission, which will be formally launched in the autumn, will also include other senior figures from sport, politics, business, academia and media.

What is interesting is that many women in sport know the issues that are out there - after all most women have had to deal with them in various ways - but to have all the information pulled together means that there is a real chance that we can tackle some of these inequalities.

The areas that the audit has looked at include leadership (only four out of 35 British National Governing Bodies of sport has a female chief executive), media coverage (there is more than 50 times as much coverage in the media for men's sport than there is for women's, with only two per cent of articles and one per cent of images devoted to elite female athletes and women's sport) and investment in sport, which looks at the split in funding of men's and women's sports.

There are many reasons why this is necessary. Obesity costs the UK £8.2bn per annum and research by the WSFF shows that more than 80% of women do not do enough sport or exercise to benefit their health, with figures set to decline further over the next 10 years without action.

Young women are half as active as young men, with less than three per cent playing competitive team sports.

Football, the most popular team sport for both women and men, is played by 13% of men compared to only one per cent of women. This has the potential to have a long-term effect on the health of our nation.

So, why should we care about this and why do we need to tackle it?

It is about more than just women taking part in sport. It is about the valuable part that women can play as coaches, volunteers and leaders and it is also about giving women the chance to realise their potential in sport, be fit and healthy but also have it as a career path.

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