Participation in sport is key to healthy lifestyle
The EU must do more to promote female participation in sport, argues Emma McClarkin.
Participation in sport is a key aspect of a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle, yet the importance we attach to it as politicians is often neglected. In the UK, the 2012 Olympic Games legacy is faltering.
Over the last six months, almost 250,000 people across England have stopped taking part in regular activity. Only 40.6 per cent of men and 30.7 per cent of women in the country take part in sport at least once a week.
As a young female politician who recognises the importance of sport in our daily lives, it is the figures for women that concern me the most. While participation rates for women in Europe are ever so slightly higher, the gender imbalance is still there and action must be taken to help improve women's participation in sport.
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At European level, we can work together to promote participation rates in our respective member states. I don't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach but I do recognise that being a member of the EU can offer benefits such as information sharing.
Member states that are successfully employing new methods of getting their citizens active can share their ideas with the rest of us. I have a few ideas of my own.
Firstly, evidence suggests that key to increasing levels of female participation is addressing concerns such as self-consciousness about fitness, weight or ability, the roots of which develop in the early years, particularly during school sport. We must do more to make physical education classes more appealing to girls.
We can do this by widening the number of sports taught in schools, giving teachers the necessary skills to work with both girls and boys, and by investing in appropriate changing facilities.
Linked to this is the need for greater subsidiarity; too much funding, including from the EU, is not making its way to local clubs.
Instead we should empower the grassroots organisations, such as StreetGames, a UK charity. StreetGames was given £6m by the UK government for its Doorstep Sport Clubs programme and reached its target of setting up 307 new clubs, in turn getting more disadvantaged children interested in sport.
Letting the communities themselves spend money in innovative ways is a much better use of the public purse.
However, this action on its own is not enough. The media must also play a role in treating women's sport as the main event rather than a sideshow.
It was exciting to follow the reporting of the England women's football team this year in the World Cup in Canada, where a place in the semi-final saw record numbers of viewers tune in to watch.
The trend is shifting but it must be sustained; we saw similar interest in women's sport during the Olympic Games in 2012, but a study by Birmingham University in 2013 showed that six of the UK's national newspapers produced fewer stories about women's sport a year on from the Olympics than they had in previous years. Seasonal interest in women's sport is not enough for prolonged engagement by the general public.
These ideas are part of a self-fulfilling cycle. By encouraging greater participation, particularly among women, interest among sponsors and media grows, encouraging even more women to get involved.
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