Women's Sports: Harlequins' research shows girls are four times less likely to pursue a career as an athlete

Harlequins Women v Leinster Women

New research from rugby side Harlequins has shown girls are four times less likely than boys to pursue a career in sport.

The research highlights the worrying fact that boys are far more likely to consider a career as a professional athlete than their female counterparts. In fact, girls are twice as likely to want to be a social media influencer than a sports star.

The results of the survey of 1,000 school children pointed to the lower profile of female athletes as part of the reasoning behind the discrepancy between the aspirations of boys and girls. School children are four times more likely to be able to identify male athletes than they are female.

Nearly two-thirds of girls surveyed said that if they had been able to see more female sports stars on social media, television or in magazines, they would be more likely to play sport themselves.

The research is testament to the progress left to be made in women’s sport and the impetus that must continue beyond events like FIFA’s women’s World Cup of 2019 or the upcoming Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next year.

Harlequins’ captain and England International Rachael Burford believes that media coverage is a central issue.

“As the saying goes; ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ and things need to change if schoolgirls are to be inspired by female sporting role models in the way boys are.

“It’s undeniable that the profile of women’s sport is on the rise, but our survey shows there’s still much more that needs to be done to influence the behaviours of young girls in this country.

“Women’s sport simply doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. Girls need to see female sports coverage to help give them the confidence that they can match boys in all areas of their lives,” Burford said.

The research comes as Harlequins launch their Game Changer initiative for 2020 on Saturday 11 April. Game Changer celebrates women’s sport and shines a light on the achievements of Harlequins' women’s team and the Club’s ambition to achieve parity between the men’s and women’s games.

There is clearly a real need to advertise the opportunities for girls in sports and the huge benefits women and girls reap later in life after participating in sports. Previous research from Women in Sport has shown that women and girls who play sport have higher levels of qualifications and self-confidence.

The benefits of playing sport are undeniable and the idea that girls continue to be less likely to participate leaves the question: what can we do about this?

The media's coverage of women's sports is important for fundamentally changing girls' ideas of what it means to be an athlete. Showing young girls different examples of female athletes is likely to change their ideas of who can become professional sportswomen.

Inspiration is key here and showing that female athletes come in all shapes and sizes is hugely important if we are to expect girls to engage with sports at similar levels to their male peers.

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