Women in Sport: What’s missing from the 2024 election manifestos?

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What do Lib Dem Leader, Ed Davey, paddle boarding with varying degrees of success, Rishi Sunak showing off his football tekkers with even more varying degrees of success, and the Labour party using Keir Starmer’s love of five a side to engage in the meme war have in common?  

They’re all ways that the political parties have been trying to grab our attention in their general election campaigns, ahead of launching their manifestos last week. 

Now look, I know there are several words in that sentence that are making many of you hover over the ‘close tab’ button. Especially the word ‘manifesto’. I mean, honestly, are you excited by political parties publishing their general election manifestos or are you normal? 

I, proudly, am very not normal and I bloody love a manifesto. I am assuming, however, that you are normal. That probably means you haven’t read in full the manifestos, all of which have now been published. So what do you, normal person who cares about women and girls in sport, need to know? 

@libdems Training to take down the blue wall ????‍♂️#ukpolitics #toriesout #libdems #eddavey ♬ original sound - Liberal Democrats

Have the parties actually had much to say about what they’d do for sport or to help get more women and girls active if they were in government? Have they spoken about the role that sport could be playing to make us happier and healthier, whilst easing the pressure on our creaking NHS, or to tackle misogyny in society? Or are they just using sport as a way to present themselves as Normal Human Beings? 

All of the parties who launched their manifestos this week have had something to say about sport. Commitments have been made by all of the major parties to support access to community and grassroots venues and clubs, a promise for more freetoair sport coverage from the Lib Dems and SNP, for protected time for PE from Labour, for a continued focus on equal access to sport for women and girls from the Tories. And, of course, there’s been plenty said on the regulation of men’s football (just men’s football, to be clear)

Are any of these promises revolutionary? No. Are most of them vague, a sort of ‘we will do nice things for sport’? Yes. Are a disproportionate number of them about men’s football? Frustratingly so. I mean, if there’s one sport that needs more support and more attention, of course it’s men’s football… But I digress. Do women and girls get a look in? Only marginally. Do any of them link sport to any other policy area? Not so much. 

Sport still feels, to me, like it’s a prop in this election.
Rachel Williams, Women in Sport

Sport still feels, to me, like it’s a prop in this election; an opportunity for occasionally unhinged photo ops to announce policies that have nothing to do with it.  

But at least sport is there. Given the huge challenges facing whoever forms the next government, that’s something we should welcome. It is part of the discussion. 

What is infuriatingly absent from the discussion is the why behind all this. Why politicians, why all of us, should care about sport and about women and girls missing out on it. What it can actually do for the country and for us as individuals. The link, above all, between sport, health and happiness. 

We all know the pressures our poor old NHS is facing at the moment and so it’s no surprise that health and social care take up huge chunks of all the manifestos. Whilst a lot of everyone’s focus is on the immediate, crisisy stuff (waiting lists, GP appointments, dentistry), all of the parties do make some promises around prevention and public health. Mental health too, especially for young people. Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens also talk openly about health inequalities, and Labour acknowledge that gendered health inequalities exist. To an extent: hurrah. 

But there’s no acknowledgement of the role that sport has in any of this. No mention of sport or physical activity in any commitments to improve public health or preventative health plans. Nothing on the gender play gap or the consequences for women and girls. Close to nothing on the importance of school sport for girls.  

Sport could be doing so much to improve not only the general health of the nation but also to close the gendered health inequalities women and girls are subject to.
Rachel Williams, Women in Sport

Sport could be doing so much to improve not only the general health of the nation but also to close the gendered health inequalities women and girls are subject to. It could have a big role to play, too, in the mental health crisis facing teenage girls. The knock-on effects a healthier population could have on everyone’s favourite election buzz-concept, economic growth, are obvious.  

This is not rocket science, gang. It shouldn’t need the entire sport sector jumping up and down waving policy papers at you to make you realise that sport and health could and should go hand in hand, especially when it comes to women and girls.  

Elsewhere in the manifestos, it’s heartening to see some pretty detailed discussion around tackling male violence against women and girls and (in the Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and Green tomes) addressing misogyny. If you’ll forgive me turning my snark off for a moment, sport could be leading the way in the societal struggle against misogyny, though at the moment it’s all too often making it worse (thanks, pernicious gender stereotypes). The next government should be working with sport to realise this potential, alongside taking steps at the macro level to criminalise misogyny. 

Overall, I’d give these manifestos like a 6/10. Could do better, should try harder. But at the end of the day, they don’t matter as much as we nerds like to think. At the end of the day, what will really matter is what the next government actually does. Deeds not words, to coin a phrase. Whoever forms the next government will need bigger and bolder ideas if they want to step up and recognise the value and importance of sport to women and girls and the value of women’s sport to society. 

As luck would have it, Women in Sport has those bigger and bolder ideas. The next government can have them for free, because we’re very generous. And if you’d like to help us spread the word about them, why not email your next MP to see if they support us? 

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