Skip to main content

WEC welcomes Government’s acceptance of recommendations on sexism and inequalities in sport

17 May 2024

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) has welcomed the Government’s acceptance of most of the recommendations set out in its report on sexism and health inequalities in sport.

WEC’s report ‘Health barriers for girls and women in sport’ published in March warned that women and girls playing sport at all levels deserve kit and equipment properly researched and designed for their health and performance needs, and at a time of soaring interest in women's sport, the sector “must do better”.

The Committee also drew attention to a need for improved knowledge and support for sportswomen’s health needs among coaches and better sharing of best practice across the sector.

In its response, the Government said: “We recognise the need for more awareness and understanding of the health and physiological needs of women and girls across sport. The Government is committed to supporting women’s sport, health and physical activity at every opportunity including pushing for greater participation.”

It added: “We accept most of the report recommendations. We will continue to work with the sector to remove the barriers that prevent women and girls from being active and continue to give women and girls a voice on what they want.”

The Committee’s report cautioned the “slow and disparate response” to “disproportionately high” rates of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee injuries in women's football reflects a lack of understanding and attention given to female health and physiology-related needs.

MPs on the cross-party committee concluded it had “no doubt that a health issue of similar magnitude affecting elite male footballers would have received a faster, more thorough, and better coordinated response”.

WEC called on the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and DfE (Department for Education) to establish a taskforce, including UK Sport, the UK Sports Institute, women's health and fitness experts including The Well HQ, sport and exercise research institutes, and the UK divisions of leading sportswear and sporting goods brands, to develop a long-term strategy to tackle sportswomen's health and physiology-related issues.

WEC recommended this strategy should set out key priorities for research; actions to increase availability of suitable, female-specific sportswear and kit (and given the associations with discomfort and injury, football boots must be a priority); and steps to achieve equal representation of women, as authors and study participants, in the field of sports and exercise research, with the strategy published within six months.

The Government accepted this recommendation, stating: “The Government believes that, through the National Physical Activity Taskforce (NPAT) and Board of Women’s Sport, the above recommendation can be achieved…The Board has been formally established and the first meeting took place on 26 March 2024…

“The first meeting of the Board of Women’s Sport focused on player welfare and challenges that face female athletes. We recognise the issues that still exist in the appropriate kit being available and designed for females and there is no doubt that the design and availability of suitable kit will form part of future discussion too including work already being taken forward in this space by sports.”

The Committee expects to follow up on the work of these new bodies and monitor their progress in effecting change.

The Committee called for a working group on best practice in pregnancy and maternity policy in sport. The Government only partially accepted the Committee’s recommendation stating: “The Board of Women’s Sport, set up to look at some of the prevalent issues facing women’s sport more broadly, and facing female athletes, is also looking at player welfare and there is no doubt that maternity leave and pay will form part of those discussions too. Both UK Sport and Sport England are members of the Board of Women’s Sport and contribute to these discussions.”

Chair comment

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC), Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP said:

“It is encouraging the Government has accepted most of the Committee’s report recommendations to tackle health barriers for girls and women in sport. While the first meeting of the Board of Women’s Sport is a step in the right direction, the availability of suitable kit must not be kicked into the long grass at a time when women’s participation in sport is soaring.

“The Committee is concerned there is insufficient specific focus on health issues in new developments like the National Physical Activity Taskforce and the Board for Women’s Sport. Project ACL in football is positive, but approximately only half of WSL (Women’s Super League) clubs have signed up so far.

“Ministers need to go further on issues such as reviewing and acting on the quality and timeliness of education on girls’ health and physiology, including the effects of puberty, the menstrual cycle, and periods in the context of PE and school sport.

“It is also disappointing faster Government action is not being taken on the issue of maternity pay and leave and wider policies to support pregnant sportswomen and returning mothers all highlighted in our report.

“Issues of bullying and harassment in sport remain a concern. The Committee will be keeping a close eye on the progress made by the Sport Integrity service and its effectiveness in handling and resolving complaints.”

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright