On 17 November 2022, the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following topical question:  

Lord Addington (Liberal Democrat) to ask His Majesty’s Government what steps it is taking to celebrate the success of national women’s sports, particularly in team sports. 

1.   National women’s sporting successes

 Women’s sport has seen a multitude of success stories in recent times, including the following: 

Some of these successes—in particular the England footballers’ European victory in 2022—have led to increased discussion about the commemoration of sporting achievements.   

2. Commemorating sporting achievements

The UK government has marked national sport teams’ successes in various ways over the years.  

For example, the past two decades have seen several prime ministers honour sports teams by hosting receptions at 10 Downing Street. This included the England men’s cricket team who were invited to Downing Street in 2005 and 2009 following their Ashes wins. This was followed by another invitation in 2019 to celebrate the England men’s cricket World Cup victory. The England men’s rugby team was also invited to Downing Street following their 2003 rugby World Cup victory. Several women’s teams have also been honoured with Downing Street receptions, including England women’s rugby and cricket teams following their achievements at the 2017 rugby and cricket World Cups 

Following England’s 2022 win at the women’s European championship, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson received criticism from sporting figures and the public for not honouring the team’s success with a Downing Street reception. According to a YouGov survey of over 3,000 people, 71% of those surveyed believed that the England squad should have received a Downing Street reception to celebrate their achievements. In a Times article on the absence of a No 10 reception, former sports minister Tracey Crouch and former head of the Football Association Greg Dyke were reported to have been disappointed by a lack of immediate plans to honour the team.  

During the Conservative Party leadership contest in July–September 2022, the press reported that then candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak committed to hosting a Downing Street reception for the England squad. However, this did not happen during Liz Truss’s short tenure as prime minister. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is also yet to confirm when (or if) a Downing Street reception for the England squad is to be scheduled.

3. Impact of England women’s European championship 2022 win on women’s sport

3.1 Viewing figures

Research suggests the women’s European championship 2022 inspired a rise in UK audiences of women’s sport. The November 2022 visibility report from the charity Women’s Sport Trust (using data from research agency Futures Sport and Entertainment) said that 46% of women’s European championship 2022 viewers had not watched any women’s sport in 2022 prior to the tournament starting. However, 27% of new viewers of the women’s European championship had gone on to watch more women’s sport in August and September 2022, including women’s cricket, golf and football.  

Excluding major international women’s football tournaments, 27.4 million people were found to have watched women’s sport in the UK between January and September 2022. This was an increase from 26.6 million in 2019. However, the report said that these figures did not include the record-breaking audience for Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall’s boxing match in October 2022. This match attracted over 2 million viewers, reportedly drawing Sky’s largest-ever audience for a live broadcast of women’s sport.  

The Women’s Sport Trust report also said there had been an increase of women’s football Super League (WSL) viewing in the latest season, with audiences more than 1.5 times larger than the viewership in the 2021–22 season. Referring to data from 9 September 2022 (the start of the latest WSL season) to 23 October 2022, Sky reportedly saw average audiences increase from 111,000 viewers in 2021–22 to 220,000 in 2022–23. Additionally, BBC One and BBC Two reportedly saw average audiences increase from 393,000 viewers in 2021–22 to 522,000 in 2022–23. The chief executive and co-founder of the Women’s Sport Trust said the report findings were “hugely exciting” and provided an opportunity for brands and broadcasters to invest in women’s sport.

3.2 School sport

Several days after their European championship win, the 23 England players set out what they wanted their legacy to be in a joint letter to then Conservative Party leader candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. They wanted assurance that all girls would be offered football during school PE lessons because only 63% of girls were currently given this option, they said. The team also wanted the government to ensure that girls had access to a minimum of two hours of PE a week, as well as increased investment in female PE teachers. In October 2022, then Prime Minister Liz Truss and culture secretary Michelle Donelan met with the England squad. At this meeting, the government committed to reviewing barriers to girls accessing two hours of PE at school. 

The director of women’s football at the English Football Association, Baroness Campbell of Loughborough, is quoted in a September 2022 UEFA Direct magazine interview as saying that the next challenge was to capitalise on the momentum generated by England women’s European victory.  

3.3 Government commitments

The government has committed to build on the momentum created by the women’s European championship 2022.  

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said in response to a written question on female football that the government planned to create 500,000 new football opportunities to engage women and girls across nine cities by 2024. The minister also said a £205mn investment between 2022 and 2025 for community sports facilities would be announced in Autumn 2022.  

On 31 July 2022, then culture secretary Nadine Dorries announced that grassroots facilities would be named after the 23 players. This formed part of the government’s £230mn investment to build or improve 8,000 grassroots football and multi-sport facilities by 2025. 

The government also announced the future of women’s football review in September 2022. This followed a recommendation from the fan-led review of football governance for men’s professional football, published in November 2021. Initiated by the government and chaired by former England and Great Britain footballer Karen Carney, the women’s football review looked at how to deliver “bold and sustainable growth” of the women’s game at both elite and grassroot levels. Key themes of the review included:

  • assessing the potential audience reach and growth of the game 
  • examining the game’s financial health, sustainability, commercial and broadcasting opportunities, and sponsorship  
  • examining structures and governance, including the affiliation with men’s teams, prize money and facilities 

The review closed for evidence on 1 November 2022. The final report is expected to be published in early 2023.  

3.4 Parliamentary commentary

Parliamentarians have also discussed England’s success at the women’s European championships.  

A Westminster Hall debate in November 2022 considered the impact that the women’s European championship success could have on girls and young women. Leading the debate, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Education Munira Wilson referred to the England squad’s ambition to ensure girls and women are given the chance to get involved in women’s football and other sports. She highlighted the importance of equal access to sport for every child, regardless of gender, background or where they live. Members from several parties also supported the equality of opportunities in sport.  

The parliamentary under secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Stuart Andrew, said the government was committed to ensuring that all sports are inclusive. In particular, he said the government was pushing for greater participation, employment and commercial opportunities in women’s sport, and for greater visibility in the media and across Parliament.  

4. Participation levels in sport

Sport and physical activity participation has come under the spotlight in recent times.  

Participation in sport and physical activities was found to have decreased in England when compared with pre-pandemic levels. The latest data from Sport England found that 61.4% of adults (28.0 million) were considered active (ie achieved 150+ minutes of physical activity per week) between November 2020 and November 2021. During the same period, 27.2% of adults were considered inactive (ie had done less than an average of 30 minutes of physical activity per week). Compared with pre-pandemic levels, the number of active adults had decreased by 1.9% (0.6 million people), and the number of inactive adults had increased by 2.6% (1.3 million people). Men were also found to be more likely to be active than women in the latest survey results. These figures were taken from Sport England’s latest ‘active lives adult survey’ which measured the activity levels of 177,273 adult survey respondents across England.  

Sport and physical activity participation has also been the subject of parliamentary discussion. In December 2021, the House of Lords National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee published a report on grassroots sport and physical activity in England. ‘Grassroot sport’ refers to amateur, non-professional and unpaid sport participation. The committee considered the case for introducing a long-term, cross-government national plan for sport, as well as the effectiveness of existing policies. It raised concerns about high levels of inactivity at grassroot levels across several groups, including women, ethnic minorities and disabled people. It recommended that the government introduce a national plan for sport, health and wellbeing, amongst other recommendations. The government responded to the committee’s report in February 2022. It agreed that a national plan for sport was needed and committed to publishing one during 2022. It also committed to increasing sport participation and activity levels across the population. A national plan for sport has not yet been published.  

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Cover image from Wikimedia Commons.