Sport has always been an integral part of my life, and I hope that I have passed that on to my children. I first picked up a tennis racket when I was 11, and I hope that I will play until I am 80. That is one of the great aspects of such sports.
In the few minutes available to me, I want to focus on women in sport. For too long, women have been the underdogs. In schools, boys got all the glory—the blazers, the badges, the awards—but I am pleased to say that that has started to change. Women’s participation in the Olympics increased from 23% in 1984 to 46% in 2016. In Rio, women won more medals in a great many sports than the men, including, rowing, swimming, taekwondo, field hockey and judo. Winning gold in the women’s hockey in the London 2012 Olympics gave a huge boost to women’s hockey. Taunton Vale hockey club is testament to that. It is the eighth largest hockey club in the country, with six women’s teams. The talented women in our UK netball team, by winning gold in the Commonwealth games in 2018, have stimulated women to play netball: 130,000 women have taken up netball since April 2018, which has led BBC and Sky to announce a deal to broadcast every minute of the world cup. Taunton boasts a very good netball club—Taunton netball club—which I cannot let pass without a mention.
I was extremely heartened at a recent meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on cricket, of which I am a proud member, to hear Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, say that women’s cricket is the biggest growth area in cricket—howzat, Mr Speaker! I have a daughter who played for Somerset, so I have spent a great amount of time following cricket. Well done to Clare Connor, director of England women’s cricket, who really is proving that we can move on in this area.
I am very proud to say that Somerset county cricket club will host the women’s Ashes this year. All my colleagues are invited, but I would particularly like to extend an invitation to the Minister. The matches will bring untold riches to the economy in Taunton Deane, and introduce many more people to the amazing style and performance of the women’s game.
I must not forget rugby. Taunton Titans have a growing girls’ sector. Women’s rugby has been helped by the announcement by the Rugby Football Union of the first full-time professional contracts for the 15s side. That is a big step forward, and will help to achieve a pipeline of players from now into the future. Staging women’s rugby internationals on the same day as the men’s has increased audiences, but I have been told that to go to the women’s match, spectators have to buy a ticket for the men’s match first. Is that fair, gentlemen colleagues? Perhaps we should do it the other way round. The gentlemen should buy a ticket to the women’s match, then get the men’s match free. That would entice them to watch the women. We have a long way to go, but we are definitely on the way. We need to give people the choice of buying a ticket for a women’s match on its own.
I want to give a big nod to the professional reporting in media coverage of women’s sport, with people such as Gabby Logan and Sue Barker. It is unbelievable that it was not until 2018 that we had the first female commentator for a live TV World cup match broadcast in the UK. The position is improving, but we have much further to go, as with equal pay.
To sum up the value of sport, particularly to women, according to the World Economic Forum, girls who play sport stay in school longer, suffer fewer health problems, enter the labour force at higher rates and are more likely to land better jobs. I call that ace, Mr Speaker.