Minister Andrew's speech at the Women & Girls in Sport Conference

Speech given by the Minister for Sport at the Westminster Insight conference on the future of women and girls sport
 The Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP

Thank you for inviting me here today, it is fantastic to see so many people here today who have a passion for women’s sport. 

I want to take this opportunity to tell you about the work the Government has been doing to ensure that women’s sport continues to thrive and to reiterate our commitment to supporting women’s sport at every opportunity - pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities, and visibility in the media. 

The Lionesses’ success at the EUROs helped make 2022 a landmark year for women’s sport, with the country winning its first major football trophy since 1966.

Their journey to the final of the UEFA World Cup in 2023 continued to ignite unprecedented interest in the women’s game.

This has clearly inspired many women and girls to take up the sport. The proof is in the stats - recent BBC analysis shows that there are now twice as many registered female football teams in England as there were just seven years ago.

In September 2022, we commissioned Karen Carney to lead the Independent Review of Women’s Football. 

The Review, published in July 2023, was brave and unapologetic in its demand for change. 

It identified ten strategic recommendations that should be implemented to help create a sustainable future for women’s football.

Our response, published at the end of 2023, sets out the Government’s continued support for the delivery of these recommendations.

We see this as an opportunity to transform women’s football into a world-leading sport that not only creates significant economic and social benefits, but also raises the minimum standards for women’s sports on an international scale.

To ensure momentum and delivery remains a priority, the Government will be convening an implementation group with all stakeholders responsible for delivering recommendations within the Review.

The first meeting is scheduled for March 2024 and will ensure mutual accountability amongst stakeholders.

The ambition has always been for the Review’s recommendations to go beyond women’s football and to apply to women’s sport more broadly.

With this in mind, and following the recommendation in the Review, the Government will be convening a Board of Women’s Sports with industry leaders, academics and National Governing Bodies.

This group will connect leaders from across women’s sports - building a shared vision to support women and girls in sport and looking at existing and future opportunities to help women’s sport continue to grow.

Women’s sport will be a highlight at the Olympic and Paralympic events in Paris this year.

Paris 2024 will be the first Olympics in history to achieve numerical gender parity on the field of play, with the same number of female and male athletes participating in the largest sporting event in the world.

To help increase the visibility of women’s sport we will continue to support and champion the UK’s hosting of major women’s sporting events. 

The UK has an excellent international reputation in hosting major sporting events - with these events delivering benefits for the whole country. 

Future events include both the 2025 Rugby World Cup and the 2026 T20 World Cup, which I am pleased to say will both be held in England.

This is all good news but we recognise that a number of challenges remain.

Building a strong evidence base through data is a top priority for DCMS - helping to ensure the impact of sport and physical activity is articulated clearly so that we can see what interventions are needed to get specific groups active.

The recent Active Lives Children and Young People Survey tells us that boys are more likely to be active than girls.

Women in Sport’s latest impact report shows that girls as young as five years old don’t feel they belong in sport and that 1.3 million girls who used to love sport disengage as teenagers.  

Statistics like these are precisely why tackling disparities in participation levels is such a key part of our sport strategy, to ensure there is an inclusive offer for all.

Published in August last year, our sport strategy - Get Active, sets out the long-term strategic policy direction for the sector. Our aim is to see 1.25 million more active women in England by 2030.

Our focus is on establishing a lifetime of engagement with sport, supporting the sector to be welcoming to all, and ensuring the sector is prepared for future challenges and opportunities. 

This includes our ambition to provide the infrastructure and conditions needed to get as many women and girls involved in sport. 

As part of the sport strategy, we also launched the National Physical Activity Taskforce. The Taskforce connects government departments with the sector and independent experts, to focus on measurable actions that will get an additional 3.5 million people active.

The Taskforce will ensure that we continue to tackle disparities in participation levels by promoting women’s and disability sport; by championing diversity; and by focussing on helping those who have the most to gain from getting active.

And there are a number of initiatives which are encouraging more women and girls to be active, such as Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.

The campaign aims to eliminate fear of judgement. Sport England’s latest data shows that just over 3 million women said they increased their sport and physical activity levels as a result of the campaign. In addition, almost 1.5 million women say they started or restarted physical activity.

Sport England have also developed the Studio You PE teaching resource which aims to get young girls engaged in PE lessons. The platform offers video-based lessons covering a range of non-traditional activities, like boxing, dance, pilates and yoga.

In order to allow more women and girls to access more opportunities to be active, we are also investing over £600 million in school sport across the next two academic years. 

This investment will help deliver girls’ equal access to opportunities to play sport and do physical activity. 

We are also investing over £320 million into grassroots football and multi-sport facilities across the UK by 2025.  This will further support women and girls to get active. And all projects in England need to have a clear women and girls plan to receive funding. 

And we’ve committed to go further still. In November last year, the Government announced it is investing £25 million alongside £5 million from the English Football Association, to create a new Lionesses Futures Fund.

This fund is expected to deliver up to 30 state-of-the-art 3G artificial grass pitches across England, providing gold-standard provision for women and girls, with reserved peak-time slots, women and girls only evenings and priority bookings for female teams.

It is vital that everyone participating in sport feels safe and secure and that where allegations of inappropriate or harmful behaviour are made, these are taken seriously. 

UK Sport, Sport England and the Government have already taken significant steps to improve safeguarding in sport, including the revision of standards and protections for children in sport, the piloting of an independent complaints and disclosure system for elite sport, and the strengthening of positions of trust legislation.

We welcome the recent announcement by UK Sport and Sport England to improve safeguarding in sport, following on from the recommendations of the Whyte Review into gymnastics.

We will continue working alongside the sport and physical activity sector to identify the most pressing integrity challenges and potential improvements, including how processes around complaint handling and dispute resolution can be strengthened.

We ran a call for evidence last autumn as a vital first step in this process. We wanted to hear how the current systems for handling concerns in sport work, and how these could be strengthened. 

We hope to publish the results of this exercise soon.

We also know that one area that is attracting a lot of debate at the moment is the issue of transgender participation in sport. 

We want to ensure that everybody in this country has the opportunity to play and enjoy sport.

Where sex does have an impact on the fairness of competitive women’s sport, domestic governing bodies and international federations must provide clear direction to protect the integrity of women’s sport.

A way forward is needed that protects and shows compassion to all athletes, whilst being clear that the integrity of competition must be maintained. 

I will continue to engage with sports on this issue to understand what work national governing bodies are doing to protect women’s sport.

In terms of media coverage, it is fantastic to see elite women’s sport getting better coverage. Recent data published by the Women’s Sport Trust shows that major international women’s sporting events, such as the Football World Cup and the Solheim Cup, as well as women’s cricket and rugby are continuing to drive record-breaking audience figures.

In terms of investment, I am delighted to see that we are continuing to see record deals struck.

The Department for Business and Trade has launched a Women’s Sport Investment Accelerator scheme. The scheme is providing a series of sessions offering market insights, connections and networking events alongside comprehensive mentoring for rights holders who are looking for investment.

However, we know there is more to do to drive up audience figures and to build the case for further investment in women’s sport.

Turning to governance, I am pleased that the strengthened Code for Sports Governance requires National Governing Bodies in receipt of significant public funding to agree a detailed and ambitious diversity and inclusion action plan with Sport England and UK Sport.

Perhaps most importantly though, as Minister for Sport and Equalities, I am committed to creating an environment where women and girls feel safe and encouraged to be involved in sport in any capacity. 

I am hugely concerned about the effect that targeted online abuse can have on women and girls in sport.

No-one should work in an environment where this behaviour is accepted, everyone should be treated with the respect they deserve.

I want to take this opportunity to reassure you that we, as Government, take this behaviour very seriously. And I am personally committed to doing all I can to stamp out discrimination of any kind in sport.

In conclusion, it is our ambition to increase participation, visibility and investment in women’s sport as highlighted in our strategy.

These three interconnected areas together will help to create system-wide change.

As I mentioned at my recent Select Committee appearance, I also want to take this opportunity to pay thanks to the heroes up and down the UK - the women and girls who volunteer day in, day out to help their communities engage in sport and physical activity.

Not only do they contribute massively to sport, but they also help target important wider issues such as loneliness. Thank you to you all. 

I look forward to continuing to work with you all to ensure that all aspects of women’s sport continue to flourish.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport
The Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP