I want to acknowledge the great and many successes that we have seen at the highest level in women’s sport this year, including the success of the Scottish national women’s football team in getting to the world cup 2019 finals, the success of athletes including Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan at the European championships, and the many fantastic performances by female athletes at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games. Those are all defining moments for women and girls in sport across the country. I thank all those fantastic role models.
I am absolutely clear about the benefits of sport and physical activity. My ministerial portfolio—public health, sport and wellbeing—signifies a deliberate, clear and connected approach that exploits the benefits of physical activity and sport to improve the health of the people of Scotland. I am more convinced than ever of that, as I have seen at first hand the powerful force that sport and physical activity can be in transforming people and communities. We want to create a culture in which healthy behaviours are the norm throughout people’s lives. Only by doing that can we achieve the Scottish Government’s vision of a Scotland in which more people are more active, more often.
Sport has an important role to play. As members are well aware, we in Scotland have developed a world-class sporting system at all levels that connects sport in schools and education, club and community sport, and performance sport. Through our investment in facilities, we are providing participation opportunities for people and communities across Scotland. Since 2007, sportscotland has invested £168 million in supporting local clubs, local authorities, sports’ governing bodies and other organisations to deliver a wide range of new and upgraded sports facilities.
This is all about behaviour change. To ensure that children from all backgrounds benefit from access to sport and physical activity, the Government has invested £11.6 million in supporting schools to meet our commitment to providing two hours or two periods of physical education a week. The number of schools achieving that went up from 10 per cent in 2004-05 to 98 per cent in 2016, which is a success.
That activity is backed by investment of up to £50 million in active schools between 2015 and 2019. Figures on uptake under that programme that were published in September showed that 7.3 million participant sessions were delivered in 2017-18, which is an increase of 6 per cent on the previous year. Of the female school roll, 44 per cent participated in active schools in 2017-18, which is a 2 per cent increase on the previous year. Those 147,655 females made up 48 per cent of the distinct participants in active schools in 2017-18, which represents an increase of 7,604 on the previous year.
Although that 48 per cent is not the 52 per cent that it probably should be—more young men than young women take part in active schools—the trend reverses in leadership opportunities. More young women than young men take part in sportscotland supported leadership opportunities, as we see in the applications for and membership of sportscotland’s young people’s sport panel. Such leadership opportunities help to build strong role models and inspire other girls and young women.
In our 192 community sport hubs across the country, there are nearly 56,000 female playing members, and 27 per cent of coaches are female—which relates to a point that Alison Johnstone raised in her amendment, which was not selected for debate. Progress is being made, but we have a distance to go. In the hubs, which are embedded in our communities, more than 55,000 women and girls are members. The community sport hub programme is made possible only by an army of more than 19,000 volunteers who deliver sport and physical activity opportunities in their communities.
The Government accepts that we have work to do, and we are committed to doing more to encourage women and girls to participate in sport. The number of women and girls who take part in a wide variety of sports and physical activities has increased in recent years. That includes significant progress in participation in recreational walking, netball, hockey, cycling, basketball, rugby and shinty. Physical activity levels among teenage girls are also increasing, although we acknowledge that there is still much to do to increase participation, to raise awareness across the sector and to remove the barriers that some still face to getting involved in sport and physical activity.
In recognising the challenge, the Scottish Government established the women and girls in sport advisory board to help us to understand what more we could do to increase opportunities for every woman and girl, and to raise awareness across the media and business sectors. The board’s work has included helping to develop women and girls in sport week 2018, of which this debate is part. The week provides the opportunity to promote and celebrate women and girls in sport. My ministerial colleagues and I are undertaking a range of activities across the country to raise the week’s profile and to encourage more women and girls to take part in sport, to try new sports and to build more regular physical activity into their everyday lives.
There is a huge range of activities. Already this week, I have been able to join women from Edinburgh in playing tennis; on Friday, I will be joining some women to play football; and on Friday night, I will be attending Dundee ice arena to see women and girls who are taking part in ice skating there. It is a really important part of the week. Maybe next year, we need to widen it out so that more members from across the chamber can take part.
As part of this week, I was pleased to be able to announce a £300,000 national fund to support projects to encourage female participation. Funding awards will range from £10,000 to £30,000. That will build on the 2017 sporting equality fund that was awarded to such projects as wheelchair basketball in Glasgow, netball across Scotland and bikepacking adventures in the Highlands. The continuation of funding for such projects will help to encourage inactive people to take up physical activity.
I think that everyone will agree that there is a lot of really good work going on across Scotland. As I have gone round the country in the nearly four months since I became sports minister, I have been pleased to see that the understanding of the importance of physical activity and sport to people’s physical and mental health is embedded right across our sporting community at every level.
One of the first sporting events that I was honoured to be able to attend as sports minister was the European championships. The great thing for me as the new sports minister was that I was able to engage with and meet lots of people, some at the highest level of European sport. Every single one of our fantastic governing bodies in Scotland understands the importance of getting people involved at the grass-roots level for the success of their sports in the future. On every occasion, they have understood the importance of getting women and girls involved in sport as part of that.
I have attended a large number of community sport hubs, where I have seen traditional male sports clubs that have grasped the thistle and accepted that they need to do more to encourage women into their sport and into their clubs—for example, by extending the range of sports on offer. I have seen football clubs go outwith their comfort zones to encompass, for example, women’s boxing, which in some areas has been really successful in encouraging women and girls who are otherwise disconnected from the normal sporting environment into sport. They have found it really exciting. They do not always take part in the competitive element, but I do not think that that matters. If women and girls join clubs to do the training, that is what is most important. Some of them may go on to be part of competitive sport, but that is not, in my view, the primary objective. If we can encourage more people at all levels, particularly women and girls over this week, to engage in sport, we will naturally find more people moving through into the higher levels of sport—from recreational sport to club sport, and so on.
I was formerly a voluntary netball coach and umpire. I found that one of the biggest barriers for the girls in the club—it was an all-female club—was transport. The minister said that not all women need to go into competitive sport, but ultimately that is what happens if the woman is good at the sport. In my example, some of the girls could not get transport to get to events, so the school had to fund a bus, we had to take a small fee for the club, and we had to get somebody who could drive the bus. Often, the teacher was not available to drive the bus and we were not qualified to drive it, so we found that we sometimes had to turn down opportunities to develop a competitive edge because of our transport issues.
Rachael Hamilton has made an important point. If there are barriers to participation, whether for women and girls or people from deprived areas, we need to understand what those barriers are and try to break them down, because it is so important that we get folk involved in sport.
Netball is one of the sports in which there has been a real uplift. The work that sportscotland has been leading on has prompted that uplift in participation, so that is one sport in which we have a really good success story. If there are barriers that prevent people—women and girls in particular—from taking part in sport, we need to understand what they are and see whether we can find ways around them. We will do that only in partnership with our partners—sportscotland, local authorities and schools. As I said, we need to understand what the barriers are so that we can take things forward. Rachael Hamilton made a good point.
This is an important year, and it has been a positive year for women’s sport. I look forward to a huge year for women in sport in 2019, with major events taking place to inspire the nation. Scotland will be hosting the European under-19s football championship and the prestigious Solheim cup at Gleneagles, and we can look forward to roaring on our women’s football team as they head over to France for the FIFA world cup.
In moving the motion in my name, I confirm that I will support the amendments from Brian Whittle and Anas Sarwar. We would also have supported the amendment in the name of Alison Johnstone, which made important points on a matter that sportscotland has identified and is trying to address.
That the Parliament agrees that increased participation in sport and physical health improves health and wellbeing, leads to improved self-esteem and, at the elite level, brings international success; recognises that, although physical activity levels among women and girls are increasing, everyone must work together to remove the barriers that some still face when it comes to getting involved in sport and physical activity; recognises the positive work that Active Schools is taking in increasing the participation of girls, and welcomes the work of the Women and Girls in Sport Advisory Board and the continued commitment to a dedicated Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to open this girls and women in sport debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. We will support the Scottish Government motion, of course, because it contains laudable aims. We will also support the Labour amendment.
I was thinking about how to address how women’s sport has developed over the years, and the name of Maricica Puica came into my mind—as I am sure it came into everyone else’s. I will be more than impressed if some members know who I was talking about. If I mentioned Zola Budd and Mary Decker Slaney, more members would probably recognise the race that I am talking about. In that race, as the two of them clashed, Maricica Puica won the Olympic 3,000m title.
Why do I mention that? In the 1984 Olympic games, the 3,000m was the longest race in which women were allowed to participate on the track. That is not so long ago. They did not have the 5,000m, the 10,000m, the 20km walk or the 50km walk. They did not have the pole vault, the triple jump or the hammer. On where we are now, we nearly have parity in the Olympic games. The only event that is still missing is the 50km walk. I should also mention that Wendy Sly won the silver in that 3,000m race. She is a good friend of mine.
For me, it is interesting that in Scottish athletics terms—I will unashamedly talk about athletics—the women dominate. Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan have already been mentioned by the minister, but we also have to talk about Eilidh Doyle, who I think has now reached a record 18 major medals this year. There is also young Zoey Clark, who I have mentioned before, coming in behind Eilidh Doyle. Long may that continue.
I was at the national training squad day a couple of weeks ago, and there are a number of young athletes coming up behind them. Alison Johnstone and I had a conversation about this. One thing that struck me at that event was the small number of women coaches. At a national squad day, with all the athletes, I counted a grand total of one female coach. That is something of which we must take cognisance. If we are to consider how we might break down the barriers to bringing more girls and women into sport, we have to think about the coaches who will lead them in.
The minister and I attended a function on Tuesday. We listened to some young women talking about their experiences of how they got into sport. What kept coming back to me was that schoolteachers, parents and coaches are the people who influence our athletes. We need to start to consider parity not just in women taking part in sport, but in women being involved in coaching. That might help to break down barriers.
Something else that came out of that event was the continued talk about school. School is the place where many children get their first experiences of sport. I have long advocated that we should take sport and physical activity to our children, rather than waiting for them to come to sport. We have that opportunity in schools. School is an important environment, so we must enhance that.
We have to consider how we link school sport to extra-curricular activity and community activities. When I consider the school PE curriculum, I do not see the point of doing a six-week introductory course to a sport if there is no destination for that sport outside the school. If we are going to enthuse a child to participate in sport, we have to give them a destination. I would like to see, in the physical education programme, greater flexibility that takes cognisance of what is available around the school in order to further physical development and education.
That leads nicely on to my next point about how we create the pathways and destinations in sport. When we consider sport, we often think of the destination as being the very top end: when we come in at the bottom, we think that we are heading for international sport. However, there are many stops on that journey. As Gillian Martin has suggested, sport is fun and is for enjoyment.
We need to consider what we are doing in the nursery programme with active play, because that is where we should be starting. We now have a programme to provide 30 hours of free nursery care, which is ostensibly there to help parents to get back to work, but those are 30 hours that we could use.
I must correct Mr Whittle. The purpose of the expansion in early years in childcare is about improving the attainment gap and closing it before it occurs and is apparent in school. Mr Whittle is right that 30 hours is an incredible opportunity to define a different kind of learning, including outdoor learning. I passionately hope that naturally child-led and play-based learning will give children many physical skills and will be part of the new core offering.
Suitably chastised, I come back to my feet. The minister and I agree that early years provision is an opportunity for development, active play and physical literacy so that when children go on to primary school they develop in games and play, and in secondary school, they have the option to take physical literacy into sports.
There are many examples of sports in which participation does not mean competition. I have talked many times about Sam Mullen at Doon Valley Boxing Club, who has revolutionised the way in which the club is seen. The majority of the kids at that boxing club are not competitive, but go along just to enjoy themselves.
I will go straight to the end of my speech. In support of the Labour amendment, I quote Anna Kessel:
“The schools with kids facing the biggest academic hurdles are often the those facing the biggest cuts to their PE programme. And those are often the kids for whom extracurricular sports clubs are not an option, so when it comes to physical education school is their lifeline. Little wonder, then, that privately educated athletes are overrepresented in the Team GB medal tally, with one third of Britain’s Medallist at Rio 2016 having attended fee-paying schools.”
We will, of course, support the Scottish Government motion’s recognition of the development of women’s sport over the years and we will continue to celebrate those achievements. In doing so, we must also recognise that, in many cases, women and girls have fewer opportunities than their male counterparts, and that that inequality of opportunity exists in many groups in our society. Our aim should be to have equality of opportunity regardless of background or personal circumstances.
I move amendment S5M-14194.1, to insert at end:
“; recognises the inequality of access to sport and physical activity across demographics, which is especially significant to women and girls’ participation, and considers that the goal must be equal access for all irrespective of background or personal circumstances.”
This is an important debate, and I welcome the content and the tone of the Scottish Government’s motion. The debate is important not because of what we say in here, but because of the need to involve more women and girls in sport and physical activity.
The reality is that we are talking about a long-standing issue that is a tough nut to crack: it has been an issue for not just the present Government but previous Administrations. There is still a huge disparity between the participation levels of women and girls and those of men and boys. Although there are close similarities in participation rates in the early years, sadly, those rates move apart significantly over a short period from around the age of 11 or 12. From that age onwards, the gap is intolerably large. Between the 11 to 12 age group and the 13 to 15 age group, the level of participation drops by a third among girls but by only 1 per cent among boys. In the 13 to 15 age group, the number of girls who meet the recommended physical activity guidelines is half the number of boys who do so. In the 16 to 24 age range, nine out of 10 men meet the guidelines, whereas only six out of 10 women do so. Even in the oldest age range, a third of men meet the guidelines, whereas only one in five women does.
This afternoon’s debate is important because of the need to address that participation gap. That is also partly why a dedicated women and girls in sport week is important. The benefits of participating in sport and physical activity are well documented and well recognised. They range from the obvious physical health benefits and the role that physical activity plays in tackling weight-related health problems, such as obesity, to the role that physical activity plays in promoting mental wellbeing. I am told that it also helps people to sleep better and improves their mood, so I can tell that many members, including me, do not get enough exercise.
There are many benefits to being active, and there should continue to be a focus on early years activity. If a child is inactive, it is much more likely that that child will grow into an inactive adult. If we expose children to enjoyable sport or physical activity at a young age, it is much more likely that they will continue those activities into and throughout adulthood. A child who is involved in a club while still at school is much more likely to be a club member after leaving school. That is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s continued support for the active schools programme, which was started by Labour almost 15 years ago. As well as supporting pupils to enjoy a huge range of activities, it has helped thousands of young people to get involved in volunteering in sport.
Although there has been a small shift in participation rates in recent years, it is clear that there is still a long way to go. Labour’s amendment recognises the success, but I say gently to the minister—this is not a party-political point, as it applies to all political parties and to previous Governments as well as the present one—that progress has been very limited. It concerns me that we are still not making sufficient progress quickly enough in this area.
I did not say this in my speech, but we will support the Labour amendment.
The health budget is £13 billion, whereas the sport budget is £29 million. We have not made sufficient progress because we do not have the finances to upscale some of the good work that is being done.
Brian Whittle makes a fair point. I would also make the point that it is the national health service, not the national ill health service. We want the national health service to promote people’s health and wellbeing so that we save money in the longer term and allow people to live longer, healthier, happier and more active lives.
Our amendment recognises the link between poverty levels and levels of physical activity. Participation rates among women in the least deprived areas are 50 per cent higher than they are among those in the most deprived areas. That is a staggering difference. Participation in sport can come with a hefty price tag, whether for clothing, equipment or even venue hire—not every family can afford to pay the £40 or £50 that it costs to hire a five-a-side football pitch on a weekday evening. That is why we have to look at how we can make access to sport affordable or free.
Not only are we seeing lower levels of women and girls participating overall, but we are seeing those levels depressing even further due to the impact of poverty. It is partly for that reason that I hope that the Government will, as the minister indicated, support our amendment. Recognising that poverty is a key determining factor in levels of physical activity is crucial to addressing the issues in the future, particularly through the provision of free and affordable sport, but also by offering a diverse range of sports for women and girls to get active in. The fastest-growing sport in Scotland is women’s football. If we encourage more diverse sports, we can tell every woman and girl that no sport is inaccessible to them.
We should also look at what we do with the consequentials from the United Kingdom-wide sugar tax. That money should be going into access to and provision of free sport, but perhaps that is a debate for another day.
The final reason why I am pleased that the Government will support our amendment is the recognition of the part that role models can play in encouraging and inspiring others. In women’s football we have the fantastic success of the Scottish women’s football team in reaching the world cup finals in France next year. Alex McLeish was here last week for a Show Racism the Red Card photo call, and he was quick to highlight the success of the women’s team and to pray that we have the same success for the men’s team. I warmly welcome the First Minister’s announcement of support for the women’s team in its preparations for the tournament. I also overheard the Scotland manager asking the First Minister for a similar commitment if the men’s team qualify for the world cup too, and I am sure that everyone wishes them well—both the women’s team and the men’s team—in those efforts.
There is good work going on across Scotland—in schools, communities and clubs—to help reduce the gender pay gap. I apologise, Presiding Officer. I meant to say the gender gap. I am so used to talking about the gender pay gap, which is also an extremely serious issue, but that is probably a debate for another day, and one that is perhaps connected.
We should recognise the huge role played by the third sector in our communities. I am concerned that, despite those good efforts, the gap remains stubbornly wide. Perhaps when the minister gets the opportunity today, she can set out what more the Scottish Government thinks can be done and how we can measure the impact in the future, so that in 10 years’ time we are not still talking about a stubborn gender gap or about a women and girls in sport week, but are instead talking about having successfully closed the gap and the fact that women and girls of all ages and backgrounds are enjoying the many benefits that sport and physical activity have to offer.
In closing, I want to say that, in any endeavour that the Government makes in this regard, it will have our full support.
I move amendment S5M-14194.2, to insert at end:
“; notes the continued disparity in participation rates between boys and girls, as outlined in the most recent Scottish Health Survey, as well as the ongoing link between deprivation and low participation rates, and raises concern regarding the Scottish Government’s limited success in making progress on this issue; recognises the importance of having inspirational role models that are representative of all backgrounds to encourage more people to get involved in sport; congratulates the Scotland women’s national football team on qualifying for the World Cup finals in 2019, and warmly welcomes the Scottish Government’s support for the team as it prepares for the tournament.”
I draw attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am pleased to be taking part in this afternoon’s debate on a subject that needs greater focus. I welcome women and girls in sport week and I thank the organisations that have provided briefings. I thank sportscotland and I would also like to thank the Edinburgh Mavericks korfball club. Korfball is a sport where the team is made up of four men and four women, and three female players from Edinburgh will be competing in the European korfball championships in the Netherlands from 12 to 21 October.
It is absolutely right that we recognise and celebrate the work that is being undertaken to properly understand what the gap in participation in sport is, why that gap exists, and what action is being taken to close the gap. Why do some young women turn away from competitive sport? Why do some young women never get involved in the first place? Of course, as Anas Sarwar has said, boys drop out too, but far more of them do not. What are the implications of that gendered non-participation? I am pleased that we are discussing the issue and I think that we have much more to learn and understand.
According to research by Women in Sport, published in its statistics report for 2017, coverage of women’s sport makes up 7 per cent of all sports media in the UK. Just over 10 per cent of televised sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport, just 2 per cent of national newspaper sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport, 5 per cent of radio sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport, and 4 per cent of online sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport. I actually think that it is pretty incredible that the gap is not much wider; we are hearing literally nothing, to judge from those statistics. We should also note that some of the spaces where sport takes place are very masculinised indeed.
We know that physical inactivity is one of the leading risk factors of death globally. Professor Nanette Mutrie, in evidence to the Health and Sport Committee, said that the evidence for the benefits of being active is solid and cannot be ignored, and that physical inactivity is more harmful than smoking.
The Parliament has shown that it can be really bold when it acts to improve public health, and I am very proud of the action that the Parliament took to prevent smoking in public places. The evidence was clear that smoking was a leading cause of disease and premature death, and Parliament acted. We need to get bold when it comes to physical inactivity. I appreciate that the issue of physical inactivity is broader than the issue of the low rates of women and girls taking part in sport, but they are closely related. I was pleased to learn, via the Scottish household survey, that people have become more active. However, we know that participation is greater among those who are more highly qualified, and that participation is lowest in the most deprived areas.
Last week, I was privileged to host the wonderful Paths for All Partnership awards in Parliament. It was a truly memorable evening—the minister enjoyed it, too—and it demonstrated that the benefits of walking go way beyond physical health. I cannot commend walking enough. As the minister said, it does not all have to be about competition, but if he wants to take up the step count challenge, I remind him that it begins on 29 October—we will see how we get on.
Walking does really well in terms of gender equality, with 69 per cent of men and 71 percent of women taking part in recreational walking—well, it is recreational now, but it will soon become very competitive. We know that if we take walking out of the equation, just over half of adults take part in physical activity, and we see that—as Anas Sarwar mentioned—far more men than women participate in sporting activities. The impact of habit and beginning early in life cannot be overstated.
Dr Morgan Windram-Geddes—who has spoken to the cross-party group on children and young people in the Parliament—pointed out in her PhD thesis on “Everyday geographies of girls’ experiences of physical activity, gender, health and bodies” that:
“policy is concerned with children’s bodies in respect to weight, fat and obesity, and to what children can and should do to decrease their body weights to satisfy health policy.”
She comes to the conclusion that the way to improve girls’ participation in sport is to get away from the obsession with weight and begin to focus more on enjoyment. She writes:
“Girls’ experiences are multiple and diverse. An activity which one girl enjoyed was loathed by another girl. Having to wear white t-shirts and black shorts for PE kit was hated by one girl but not given another thought by a different girl. Doing PE with the boys was reflected on positively by some girls and met with fear and anxiety by others.”
Girls and women face particular barriers and challenges in engaging with sport. The obsession with women’s bodies, their fitness or otherwise and the need to appear on the beach in a bikini has become regarded as completely normal. I do not see many magazines selling themselves with pictures on the cover of men in or out of their bathing shorts before or after an exercise programme. We have to change the focus, and play has an essential role.
The cost of access to sports centres has been mentioned. There should absolutely be a cost beyond which we cannot go at a national level, as the cost of access to some sport centres in this city is quite frankly prohibitive.
We have seen some really good work in specific sports. I have been involved in athletics all my life, and I think that we are a particularly good brand with a very strong story to sell. Other sports are beginning to catch up, but I would like us to come back to the chamber next year and seek to ensure that the gap has closed markedly. There is still much more to do, and I look forward to working with colleagues to achieve our aims.
There are many high points of being Orkney’s MSP but, as a sporting fanatic, being asked to co-host Orkney’s sportsperson of the year awards over the past couple of years has been right up there. BBC Radio Orkney’s Robbie Fraser does a good Des Lynam to my poor man’s Gary Lineker, and we have bagged the gig again for next year, which proves that we must be doing something right—or perhaps just being cheap is the clincher.
At the most recent awards, I was delighted, but not at all surprised, when the shortlist for the top individual award was made up of three of Orkney’s highly impressive young female athletes: Hannah Beaven, who is already a Scottish powerlifting champion and earlier this summer announced herself as a British record holder in the 47kg class; Sarah MacPhail, who has stormed her way through various development pathways in netball to the point at which she will captain Scotland’s under-21 team at the Netball Europe competition in Belfast this weekend, and hopefully stake a further claim to be in the full Scotland squad for the netball world cup next year; and the eventual winner, Anna Tait, whose victory was sealed on the back of a season that saw her smash records on the track at the international island games in Gotland, compete for Scotland at 1,500m and perform well in Great Britain trials. All three—Hannah, Sarah and Anna—share the same commitment, tenacity and determination to make the very most of their talents.
They are no flash in the pan. Anna Tait’s predecessor as Orkney’s sportsperson of the year is Rachael Sutherland, who has captained Scotland to success at the European pool championships and was recently selected in Scotland’s A squad for the world finals next month. Those are young women operating at or near the top of their respective sports. I appreciate that the focus of women and girls in sport week may be more about encouraging and supporting participation at a grass-roots level, and unlocking the benefits that we have heard about that come from playing sport and being physically active. There are health benefits, both physical and, as Anas Sarwar reminded us, mental. There are also the benefits of self-confidence and skills such as team work, perseverance and communication. All those skills are not only invaluable in a sporting context—at whatever level—but stand any individual in good stead, whatever they choose to do and, in return, benefit wider society.
As Anas Sarwar’s amendment underlines, having role models is key to our effort to encourage greater uptake of sport and physical activity, providing examples for young girls, and those of all ages, to look up to and be inspired by. That can be the Laura Muirs or the Eve Muirheads, or, frankly, the entire Scotland women’s football team, whose exploits—along with those of others—have undoubtedly inspired a nation. When we see those inspirational people within our own community, it is perhaps even more tangible and powerful. It is easier to say, well why not me?
That link between grass roots and elite sport is crucial. It is not a question of investing in one and not the other. Failure to do both will inevitably undermine our chances of achieving our ambitions or allowing each individual to fulfil their potential, whatever that may be. I know from speaking to Rachael Sutherland that she takes very seriously her role in supporting other girls and young women and has enjoyed real success, with the numbers of women competing regularly up threefold over recent years.
Being a woman in a male-dominated sport such as pool is not easy, though, even—or perhaps particularly—when that woman is good deal better than most of her male counterparts. I suspect that the same applies in other sports, including rugby, yet having watched the spectacular rise in popularity and success of the Orkney Dragons, I am pretty confident that that is a group of women that can take most of those challenges in their stride. Capturing the BT women’s north league last season, soon after first starting to compete, their success is inspiring more girls and women to get involved—a pattern that I understand is being seen in other parts of the country.
The great thing about rugby, as former Dragons captain Jo Inkster observed, is that rugby is “a place for everyone.” Whether in the men’s or the women’s game, rugby helpfully accommodates those of all shapes, sizes and abilities. On the downside, however, availability of training facilities, including floodlit 4G pitches, can be a challenge; so too female-friendly changing rooms, without which I understand some younger players can be reluctant to sign up. Getting enough competitive games throughout a season is also an issue, although not just for the Dragons. That applies to age group teams—male and female—across the Highlands and Islands.
Then, of course, there is the question of costs. Whether, like Sarah MacPhail, someone is travelling regularly to take part in development pathways training or is one of many individuals or teams heading to the Scottish mainland to compete, travel costs for island athletes are high and can be prohibitive. Welcome steps have been taken recently to provide grants to specific island athletes across a wide range of sports. The sponsorship from local businesses and travel providers is utterly invaluable. Without it, and the time put in by parents, coaches and volunteers, sport in our island communities would be a pale shadow of what it is.
That said, despite the obvious talent that there is, it can often be the case that only those going away to university or college get spotted and selected. Orkney’s Beth Thomson, who has broken into Scotland’s under 21 rugby set-up, is perhaps a case in point, getting her break only after she started at Edinburgh university. Beth’s former captain in the Orkney Dragons, Jo lnkster, is also firmly of the view—channelling her inner Brian Whittle—that more rugby and, indeed, more sport needs to be part of the curriculum. As she says,
“playing sport should be the norm, every day, like going to English or Maths classes”.
Jo added that keeping girls involved in sport through the teenage years is vitally important.
Anna Tait observed to me that, unsurprisingly, many young girls are affected by image in sport. Many, she says, are worried about appearance when taking part, particularly where the culture or perception of sport is about being muscly, sweaty and, by extension, ugly. Anna made a specific plea to raise greater awareness of the importance of sports bras. As she says,
“it is a huge barrier to many girls and woman when exercising and taking part in sport. I believe girls should be educated about this at school as it may increase participation and make girls more comfortable and able to enjoy sport”.
It is small ask, but one with the potential to make a big difference, perhaps.
I welcome today’s debate, thank the minister for the way in which he set the tone and thank Anas Sarwar and Brian Whittle for commendable and worthwhile amendments. We will support both of them at decision time.
I welcome the minister to his new role. For me, his constituency of Dundee City West is synonymous with sport. Any Fifer of my vintage will recall the former Olympia swimming pool that once stood close to the site of the new V&A Dundee. A more stark contrast in architecture you would be hard pushed to find; Olympia’s flumes, including the terrifying yellow cannonball, glowed brightly as you crossed the River Tay from the Kingdom.
This week is a time to celebrate women’s and girls’ involvement in sport; so, what do we know? Ninety-eight per cent of schools in Scotland provide at least two hours or periods of physical education per week, up from 10 per cent in 2004-05, the daily mile has children from primary school out and about for 15 minutes a day and Scotland’s women’s football team is off to the world cup. That is all very welcome news.
However, to celebrate properly we must reflect on the inequalities that still characterise Scottish sport, from the classroom to the football pitch. According to Scottish Qualifications Authority data, this year 10,302 boys in Scotland were presented at national 5 level in physical education. That compares with just 5,095 girls—less than half the number of boys. Of that cohort, 53.1 per cent of the girls secured ‘A’ passes, compared with 41.9 per cent of their male counterparts.
Girls are simply not choosing PE in our schools. We need to reflect on why that is and why, if they do go against the grain, they outperform their male counterparts. Who will replace the Scotland’s women’s football team in generations to come? In 1998, a case study by a former colleague of mine found that if girls wanted to succeed in PE at standard grade they needed to act “like boys”. Boys were more likely to be selected to demonstrate in class. My colleague argued, some 20 years ago now, that physical education had created a generation of “lost girls”.
We must look at what the data is telling us. What are the reasons why, in 2018, fewer than half the number of S4 pupils who chose PE were girls? On that note, I was delighted to see yesterday’s announcement from the Government to commit £300,000 to projects to help get more women and girls into sport. I have previously raised the idea of linking the health and education portfolios to tackle the attainment gap, and perhaps there is an opportunity to link sport with promoting academic attainment more broadly, as Brian Whittle alluded to in his contribution.
“Children who have had a poor experience in school are less likely to stick with sport and exercise as they go into adulthood”.—[
Health and Sport Committee
, 26 September 2017; c 4.]
Much like closing the poverty-related attainment gap, therefore, early intervention is key to ensuring that children develop a positive affiliation with sport. There are proven links between academic attainment and sport. A 2014 Public Health England report on the link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment found that
“A positive association exists between academic attainment and physical activity levels of pupils”.
Although the Greens’ amendment was not selected, I was glad to see specific mention in it of the socio-economic disadvantage that exists. We must acknowledge that access to sport from the youngest age is predicated on social stratification. The poorer someone is, the less likely they are to have access to sport from the outset.
Physical education in school holds the key to closing the socioeconomic gap in opportunity, because if mum, dad or someone else is not running girls to football, hockey, swimming or dancing, what chance do they have to succeed in sport? What chance do they have even just to try it? School is the leveller, and I firmly believe that more should be done to invest in our PE departments nationally.
I am grateful to the Scottish Sports Association for providing information on women and sport ahead of the debate. I note from that that sport leads to a 20 to 40 per cent reduced risk of breast cancer; that it leads to increased confidence—and young women in the UK have some of the lowest levels of confidence in Europe; and a pay gap difference of potentially up to 8 per cent higher earnings.
Reducing cancer rates, improving wellbeing and closing the gender-related pay gap are all policies that this Government seeks to advance. Perhaps sport could be the answer to all three.
It is welcome news that the SSA will receive an extra £70,000 of Government funding for 2018-19 to increase the representation of women and minority ethnic communities in sport. I very much hope that some of the funding will be used to work directly with our secondary schools to make a difference where it counts, such as widening access to the school estate, which was highlighted as an opportunity in the Health and Sport Committee report that I mentioned earlier.
I remember the last time that the men’s football team qualified for the world cup. The year was 1998, Del Amitri was singing “Don’t Come Home Too Soon” and I had managed to buy myself a reduced-price Umbro strip from the Wellgate in Dundee. It was a good time to be a Scotland supporter—briefly. In 2018, that hope exists, encompassed in the ethos of the women’s team. I am so proud that this Scottish National Party Government has committed to fund our national squad, thereby allowing those who are not professionals to train full time from January.
Perhaps we can all be proud of Vivienne MacLaren, the chair of Scottish Women’s Football, who explained to this week’s
Scotland on Sunday why the team rejected bids for sponsorship from alcohol or gambling companies. She said:
“We don’t want to take money when there’s girls playing football out there who can’t afford to get to training. We’re trying to help clubs support their players. There’s kids that can’t afford football boots and yet there’s alcohol and gambling brands around a lot of sports.”
She is right.
Vivienne MacLaren’s attitude is inspirational. There are so many other Scottish women like her involved in sport. Liz McColgan, Eve Muirhead and Lynsey Sharp are all role models of their time who deserve to be celebrated. Scotland needs more female sporting role models and, to get them, we need to find out why so few continue to pick PE in school. It is not aptitude, as the exam results tell us. To challenge gender segregation in sport, we need to go back to the classroom and ensure that there is sport for all.
Thank you, Presiding Officer and fellow athlete. [
.] In expressing my delight in taking part in this debate, I declare an interest as a lifelong sports fan and a father of a daughter whom I regard as my sporting star.
I was pleased to see the Scottish Government hold the first-ever women and girls in sport week 12 months ago. Here we are again, celebrating it across the country. Back then, we saw the creation of a women and girls in sport advisory board, which has the aim of encouraging more women into sport. That is absolutely a step in the right direction, but a year on, as we take part in the debate, a lot of hard work remains to be done to ensure that there is equity and equality of provision, not just with regard to addressing the disparity between boys and girls, but with regard to the link between deprivation and low participation and between rural and urban areas.
Many barriers remain, and they are particularly prevalent in rural Galloway and West Dumfries, where our budding female athletes often find that their opportunities are limited, or they face barriers in the form of transport costs and poor access to suitable facilities. Galloway athletes such as Jo Muir, who is an international modern pentathlete, or Kirsty Yates, who competes in the shot put, have had amazing success despite the barriers that rurality brings—barriers that are still there for young athletes in our region. Jo Muir’s, Kirsty Yates’s and my daughter’s sporting careers require them to travel in some instances more than three times a week from Galloway to Glasgow, Edinburgh or Sheffield for coaching, and to travel hundreds of miles to take part in various competitions.
The Government motion refers to the “positive work” being done by active schools to increase the participation of girls in sport. That is not the case when we look at what is happening in Dumfries and Galloway. Only this year, the Labour-SNP Administration saw fit to restructure and cut its active schools budget by £81,000, which in turn affected the matched funding from sportscotland. Sadly, that trend is set to continue in the coming years, with a potential further £120,000 set to be cut over the next two years, on the current projections.
That hardly sends out a positive message when we want to increase participation. Last week, a teacher contacted me bemoaning the lack of sports in school. The inter-school games, such as netball and basketball, have been cancelled because of transport costs. That is wholly detrimental to sporting development in school, at a vital age when our youngsters may be deciding whether to pursue a sporting career or simply whether to keep active. Rural communities already suffer social isolation and this debate offers a perfect opportunity to raise those concerns and make the Government aware of the reality in many rural schools.
The important thing is to grow the economy, but that is for another day.
Earlier, I mentioned my daughter, Vicky, who has succeeded even though those barriers were put in front of her. She has carried on pursuing her dreams of reaching the top in ice hockey, despite 6 am starts and 1 am finishes and often having to drive 360 miles a week to play for the Solway Sharks. We only had to travel to Dumfries, which was close for us, but others had to travel as far afield as Aberdeen. Vicky recently played in the Czech Republic and I could not be more proud of her, because she got there despite rurality being a major barrier. Her family were there to support her, but many families who have sons or daughters with equal ability have not been in that position. In some cases, it costs £60 a week just to play ice hockey.
Dumfries and Galloway has other female sports star success stories. There are too many to mention, but one is pentathlete Jo Muir from the Haugh of Urr. She has enjoyed success at the European championships and the World Cup in her discipline, progressing from being a junior world champion in 2013, to overcoming altitude to claim a top 20 finish in the world modern pentathlon championships in Mexico City only a few weeks ago. Her achievements were despite an initial lack of funding and sporting opportunities in Galloway. She is a terrific role model and we are all very proud of her.
The success stories are not just in athletics. Vicki Adams, a curler from Portpatrick, was part of a squad that won bronze at the Winter Olympics and has had gold medal success at the 2013 world championships and at the European championships in 2011 and 2017. We also have the fantastic Stewartry Sirens women’s rugby team.
A lack of role models is not a barrier to encouraging girls into sport in my constituency—we have them in abundance. For rural communities, it is about having the facilities and training opportunities that will allow our girls who wish to participate in sport to hone their skills. Progress continues to be slow, and there remains a concern that the money, both centrally and locally, is not being filtered through to rural communities, which need it most.
The commitment to increase women’s participation in sport in the SNP’s programme for government in 2017-18 was welcome, but as we celebrate this week, we must see a renewed focus on how best to achieve that and ensure that all areas of Scotland benefit. Sportscotland’s corporate plan has equalities and inclusion as one of three priorities for improvement and it recognises the exclusion that can be experienced in some parts of Scotland. One priority is a commitment to ensure that young people from our most deprived areas, as well as girls and young women, will have access to greater sporting opportunities. That commitment must also focus on rural Scotland, where there is a great need for parity. Facilities are not on the doorstep, unlike in many urban areas. Quite simply, we need—literally and metaphorically—the promise of a level playing field.
Sport can be a fantastic tool for bringing people together and my daughter Vicky has forged wonderful friendships through participating in ice hockey. The benefits cannot be overstated, which is why I am contacted regularly by constituents who want to see not only greater development of sporting facilities but better and clearer skills-development pathways. Those must be delivered where they are needed most. We need local authorities like Dumfries and Galloway to be in a position to lead by example. Only then will further female champions and happier and healthier constituents emerge in my constituency and, indeed, across Scotland.
It may seem difficult to imagine, but I was very sporty when I was younger; I played hockey and netball and ran in relay teams. One reason for that was that my school was quite close to where I stayed—I walked to school; indeed most schools at the time were close to where their pupils stayed. The school was open at night and at weekends, so we could go along and play netball and hockey on the sports fields.
This is not just about encouraging women to do sport; it also dips into the health and education portfolios.
When I was on the Equal Opportunities Committee, we ran an inquiry into the huge gap that Anas Sarwar, Alison Johnstone and others have described. All the matters that they raised came up in our inquiry, but so did other factors such as social pressure from peers and cultural issues. It is important that we address this through all parliamentary portfolios, not just one.
Like other members, I am very pleased with the £300,000 of Government funding that Jenny Gilruth mentioned. That is to be welcomed, because it will encourage women and girls to join in or go further with sports. I know that applications for money for programmes to get more women and girls into sport are open to Scottish sport governing bodies and local authorities, and I encourage them to apply as soon as possible.
On a more recent note, I congratulate the Scotland women’s squad on its amazing success, which others have already mentioned. They are great, but we should not be surprised—we all know that women excel beyond men in lots of things. It is just a question of encouraging them to come forward in sport.
Will Sandra White join me in congratulating Hibs Ladies, who have contributed substantially to the success of Scottish women’s football? She mentioned recent successes, and Jenny Gilruth asked who will follow on. The Scotland women’s under-17s beat Lithuania 2-1 today in their first match in the European championships. Will she congratulate them as well?
There is no harm in doing it again. I absolutely congratulate them; they are all great models for women and girls, and may they go on to great success in the future. We are in safe hands in that respect.
I would like to mention my constituent Leanne Crichton, who has had a very successful footballing career both locally for Glasgow City and for the national squad. She was part of the women’s under-19 squad that qualified for the UEFA European championships in Hungary in 2005. A midfielder, she won two senior caps before being recalled to the squad after four years for a double-header against the USA in Jacksonville and Nashville in February 2013. She scored her first senior goal in a 3-2 friendly win over Iceland in June 2013.
I am very pleased that, as Jenny Gilruth mentioned, the First Minister has given a huge boost to Scotland’s national women’s team with additional funding to enable the whole squad to train full time for the FIFA world cup. That says something about our commitment, and there are lots of other things going on as well.
Let me highlight two cycling initiatives in my constituency. Cycling might not be for everyone, but these projects are also about giving people confidence. The first is the Glasgow branch of Bike for Good, which has teamed up with Simon Community Scotland to work specifically with women and girls, many of whom have faced significant challenges in their lives. It gives women the opportunity to learn bike maintenance and build a bike from scratch. At the end of the course, each person gets to keep the bike, which ensures that they have a cheap and reliable mode of transport and the skills to maintain it. The project also improves their health and gives them confidence.
So far, 24 women have built their own bikes, and they have all said what a positive effect it has had on their physical and mental wellbeing. One of them said:
“I was so nervous before and thought I would be too unfit to go the bike but I have been out on it everyday since I finished building it”.
The camaraderie of the women on the course makes it worth while. Another of the women said:
“I have learned new skills I didn’t know I had. I thought I would be too old and too unfit to learn to get cycling but I’m not!”
The second initiative, Belles on Bikes, is a cycling group for women who live in and around Glasgow. It offers a mix of rides to cater for all ages and abilities. The group is supported by the CTC Bike Club, funded by Cycling Scotland and delivered in partnership with Youth Scotland and Bike for Good. Over the years, Belles on Bikes has trained female cycle trainers to organise, lead and inspire women of all ages to get out on their bikes. Whether someone wants to start community biking, cycle with family and friends at the weekend, or just meet like-minded people, Belles on Bikes is a great community and it introduces people to cycling.
One of the best things that we can do for our health is be physically active. I have highlighted two initiatives in my constituency and I am sure that there are others in other constituencies. By debating this today, I hope that we will encourage more women and girls to get active and be fitter.
I welcome today's debate on women and girls in sport. We have already heard about women and girls who are achieving fantastic results in elite sports. We should recognise the commitment, hard work, talent and dedication that they have given to their chosen sport and celebrate their achievements. Labour’s amendment congratulates the Scottish women’s football team and recognises the Scottish Government’s announcement of financial support. Women who participate at a high level often still have to earn a living and cannot dedicate themselves to the sport, so I welcome the funding that will enable the team to concentrate on the tournament.
Recognition and sponsorship can be difficult for women to receive, and we can see gender disparity across elite sports where women still receive less financial reward and have lower profiles. Although we have global woman sport stars, they are often at the forefront of fighting for greater recognition, respect and parity in their sports. We should consider ways of achieving a sustainable funding base for all women’s competitive sport.
I want to focus on other aspects of the debate. The Scottish health survey, which was published last week, confirmed some attitudes and behaviours around sport and gender. As the minister recognised, male participation in recreational sport is higher on average than women’s. Women are less likely than men to meet the guidelines for moderate or vigorous physical activity, with the greatest gap being in the young adult age group. The most dramatic statistic is probably that participation in sport among high school-age girls declines by 24 percentage points compared with 1 percentage point for boys.
The figures are compounded by deprivation, with higher levels of non-participation in areas of high deprivation. Although we rightly celebrate high-level achievement, a recent BBC documentary claimed that almost nine in 10 elite athletes come from a more privileged background. Sport should be the great equaliser, but the figures suggest that, for too many people, opportunities are limited, and personal as well as national potential is not being realised.
I welcome the work that has been undertaken to consider the barriers to women and girls’ participation in sport. The modest but welcome investment in the sporting equity fund has provided an impetus to work in this area. In Fife, Fighting Chance Scotland received funding for a schools judo programme and Fife Council received an award to support inactive girls to take up cycling. I understand that the funding is only for a year and the minister has confirmed that additional funding will be available to support grass-roots sport. Will that additional funding be available to groups that already receive funding or is it only for new applications?
I also welcome the work of the women and girls in sport board. Its focus on four key areas looks to increase engagement and should lead it to consider how deprivation depresses opportunity. The benefits of an active lifestyle for everyone are evident, and they are not just physical benefits; it also benefits mental wellbeing.
A lot of good work is being done to challenge the way we think about sport and women and girls’ participation in it. Some members have spoken about the importance of role models and leadership opportunities. I am interested in where that intersects with celebrity culture and the images of perfection that girls are presented with.
The this girl can campaign was about promoting diversity and confidence, and taking on myths about femininity and how it is expressed. Girlguiding has also done a lot of research that highlights that girls can be reluctant to take part in sport because it is not regarded as feminine. Part of that is about activity and not labelling activity as sporty or otherwise. For some, “sporty” can be a label that enforces a binary approach—either someone is good at sport and wins things, or they are not, so they start to avoid it.
At primary school, it is perhaps easier to be more inclusive. As headteacher of St Ninian’s primary school in Stirling in my region, Elaine Wyllie introduced the daily mile, which is a great initiative that embeds positive behaviour and attitudes to activity, and introduces concepts of keeping active, socialising, and building activity into our daily routine. All those are easy lessons that I hope will stay with children throughout their lives.
The significant reduction in participation occurs at high school. There is still a gender gap at a younger age, but it becomes more pronounced at high school. Last year, the Health and Sport Committee’s report “Sport for Everyone” found that having a negative experience of sport at high school can practically put girls off sport for life. There are complicated factors for that. Being more self-conscious about body image can be a factor, and some of our schools’ changing facilities do not lend themselves to privacy. The range of sport that is on offer for girls does not suit everyone, so lack of choice is a factor in people not participating. Girls and boys taking part in sports together can sometimes encourage judgments on ability and lead to a lack of confidence among girls. The competitive nature of school sports does not suit everyone, either. Some of those factors apply equally to boys, but there is not the same drop-off in their activity.
That said, school activity is important in closing the participation gap. Although I am aware that sports clubs endeavour to keep their fees minimal, it can be a challenge for families on low incomes to afford them. The active schools network, working with sportscotland, is an important vehicle for bridging the gap between club activity and schools, and it should be supported to provide more free and affordable sports in schools.
A related issue is the financial pressures that face our schools. In Fife, I am aware of reports of the reduction in the number of teacher posts, and I have heard concerns about the continuing viability of some girls sport teams representing their schools and taking part in competitions, because of a lack of teachers who can provide the coaching. That must be avoided and, if budget cuts are creating that situation, the cuts need to be reversed. Although such cuts might look like easy cuts that will not impact on core teaching, they are letting down a generation of girls who have shown a commitment to their sport and deserve our support.
Sport is an important part of life for the majority of Scots—we cannot get enough of it. However, on the whole, we tend to be spectators rather than participants. For the sake of our nation’s health, we need to do better by changing things and becoming more involved.
I cannot remember the last time I played five-a-side football—well, the truth is that I can remember, but I am slightly embarrassed for the young man who was fitter and faster than I was and who I halved in two as he tried to run past me. However, when I have played football at other times with people of a certain age, speed, ability and fitness, I seem to enjoy it slightly more. We need to ensure that people enjoy sport with their group of peers.
It is said that men’s attitudes change when they have a daughter. That is true, but it is equally true when they have a granddaughter. They want them to achieve, and be part of, absolutely everything. It is important for women and girls to see sport as something that they should be involved in.
Sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves, because Scotland has a proud tradition in female sport and physical activity—not least with the recent success of our national football team in making the world cup finals. Our women footballers are showing the men that Scotland can still qualify for major tournaments. The women’s team’s qualification has excited us all, particularly in Paisley, as St Mirren Park has been the venue for many of the home games for Scotland’s national women’s team. It has excited us so much that my wife, Stacey, has stated that she wants to go to France next year to follow the tartan army girls, but she will be going by herself, Presiding Officer, because unless you change the sittings of Parliament next year, I will be at work.
As our national sport, football should be leading the way, and there is much development in the women’s game in Paisley. This summer, St Mirren Football Club launched its women’s team and, as is the norm with a club such as St Mirren, funding will always be an issue. However, it was agreed with a group of female footballers that Paisley would have its first major female football side. St Mirren Independent Supporters Association, which I am the convener of and which owns 28 per cent of the club, sponsored the team’s strips, and the women involved raised funding for league entry and their on-going expenses. That shows that there is no such thing as an impossible task—it might have been difficult and challenging, but the team managed to kick off at the start of the season.
The minister and I heard a story the other night from a young female footballer who was not allowed to play football at school because the teachers thought that she would be too fragile but who has managed to continue. That sort of attitude is something that we have to tackle.
Mr Whittle is correct. That is an example of some of the attitudes that we have to deal with. We have to ensure that everyone can have access to sport.
The St Mirren women’s football team is not the only thing that is happening with the women’s game. There has been an increase in teams from what were traditionally called our boys clubs but which are now called youth football clubs. Gleniffer Thistle FC, which brought us players such as St Mirren legend and now sports pundit Stephen Thompson, has a girls section and a women’s team. St Mirren youth football club, which is not connected with the professional club, has a girls section, as does St Peter’s FC. To move away from the centre of the known universe to faraway Linwood, we can see that Linwood Rangers—which is former Scotland captain Paul Lambert’s first team—has a girls section, too.
You might have noticed, Presiding Officer, that not only have all the famous former professional players I have mentioned played for St Mirren, all are male. We must ensure that young women and girls have their own sporting heroes to look up to and aspire to be like. There needs to be some form of parity between the women’s game and the men’s game. That will not be easy. It will require funding and a change of attitude to our national sport on the part of the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Premier Football League and the clubs and, as Mr Whittle explained, at other levels within the game.
Supporters also need to look at women’s football more positively. That might be the biggest issue for us all. Scotland’s women’s team qualified for the world cup finals. As Jenny Gilruth said, their male counterparts have not been there since 1998—ironically, again in France. We have to ensure that these sportswomen who are heroes to young women today continue with their success. That is why I welcome the fact that Scotland’s national team squad will be able to train full time from January 2019 for the FIFA 2019 world cup, with additional funding from the Scottish Government. That will strengthen the women’s and girls’ game in Scotland.
St Mirren chairman and majority shareholder Gordon Scott has already announced that the club is going to go beyond just having its own women’s football team. He wants to create St Mirren women and girls football academy. Our club in Paisley already knows the success that having an academy has brought to our men’s team and sees the opportunity that it has to develop that further. The St Mirren academy has produced Scotland internationals such as John McGinn, Kenny McLean and Lewis Morgan, and the supporters see the value of the academy in financial terms and on the field.
Gordon Scott’s plan is to have the women and girls academy in Ferguslie Park in Paisley and to take it forward using St Mirren community trust, with Gayle Brannigan leading the way. Gayle Brannigan is well known in Renfrewshire for running sports trusts and sporting community programmes. We have an opportunity to use this project as a pilot scheme. We can say to young women in places such as Ferguslie Park that it does not matter where they live or where they are from—they can be part of our national sport and play for the famous Paisley St Mirren.
St Mirren uses the tag line “Our Town, Our Team”. Now, we are looking to take that further and ensure that St Mirren is Paisley’s team for our whole community. I look forward to the day when I sit with my granddaughter, my daughter and my wife and I see St Mirren lift the Scottish women’s cup. Only then, when that date goes down in history alongside those other famous dates from St Mirren’s past, will I say that we definitely have equality in Paisley.
I add my congratulations to our women’s national football team on reaching the world cup finals, which is something that has not happened for Scotland since the world cup in France in 1998. I look forward to the world cup tournament in France next June, when everyone will be rooting for them, if not attending the actual event.
It is true that taking part in physical activity or sport is one of the best ways to maintain our physical and mental health. It is definitely on my to-do list and long overdue, although I might start with the chair yoga that I tried at the event that I held in Parliament on Tuesday evening, which might well be exertion enough.
Taking part in sport can not only benefit physical and mental health but be an incredibly social activity that builds confidence, relationships and friendships. Sport can be fun. However, there are still barriers to women and girls taking part in sport, which we must address.
In elite sport, our women’s national football team and our incredibly successful women’s cycling and swimming teams clearly inspire women and girls and encourage them to be involved in sport and get active. Elite sports absolutely have a role to play in such encouragement, but we must ensure resource and accessibility at the grass roots to break down the majority of the barriers and encourage more women and girls to take part.
Through the active schools and active girls programmes, the Scottish Government and sportscotland have increased the number of children who do two hours or two periods of PE a week from less than 10 per cent in 2004-05 to 98 per cent in 2016. That was an SNP manifesto commitment. PE has a positive impact not only on physical health but on educational attainment and life chances, as the minister, Maree Todd, mentioned in her intervention on Brian Whittle. To take one of the simplest forms of exercise—walking—the roll-out of the daily mile in schools across Scotland has significantly improved pupils’ health and wellbeing, but it has also had a positive effect on learning in the classroom.
As part of the manifesto commitment, the Scottish Government invested £11.6 million between 2012 and 2016, and that has been backed by the investment of £50 million in active schools between 2015 and 2019 through sportscotland, which is welcome. The Government’s vision of a Scotland in which sport is a way of life, is at the heart of Scottish society and has a positive impact on people and communities is certainly something that we all want to be achieved. I believe that we are on the path to achieving it, but we must take into account all the issues—especially those that face women and girls, no matter what their background or stage in life is.
The women and girls in sport board is passionate about the issue and about recognising that different challenges face women and girls in relation to maintaining healthy levels of physical activity at different stages in their lives. The board will focus on four areas, which are intervention—what is needed to get more women and girls physically active and into sports; prevention—what measures will ensure that women and girls do not drop out of physical activity or sport and that they have opportunities to continue; reconnection—how women and girls can get back into physical activity or sport when a major change to their life happens; and continuation—helping women and girls to continue with physical activity or sport throughout their lives.
Campaigns such as that using the hashtag #SheCanSheWill, which was launched ahead of women and girls in sport week, focus the discussion on women and girls in sport. Through further discussion and understanding, we will continue to make progress on breaking down the barriers that are faced.
It is clear that progress has been made over the years on getting more women and girls into sport. We have, for example, seen significant increases in women and girls participating in sport and physical activity, including walking and biking, as well as traditional sports such as netball, hockey and shinty. Funding has been provided for projects such as fit for girls, and for 192 community sport hubs, including Tryst community sport hub in Larbert, which ensure that grass-roots clubs are available in communities across Scotland.
Through active schools, participation has increased in the likes of karate and dodgeball—the figures quadrupled between 2011-12 and 2016-17—and in sports such as tennis, football, cross-country running and gymnastics, for which figures have doubled. Those sports have had the biggest increase in girls’ participation in sessions, which shows that, although much more can still be done, we are certainly doing something right.
In closing, Presiding Officer, more can be done—clearly, more will be done—to increase the participation of women and girls in sport and physical activity and certainly more will be done to understand and break down more of the barriers that prevent such participation. However, when we look at the progress that has been made over the past few years, Scotland is on the right path and we should continue to push those boundaries to make sure that we continue on that path.
We are achieving success on the global stage, with Commonwealth, Olympic, world and European championship medals to be proud of, and of course there is success to come in the future. However, we should continue to make these inroads and increase participation so that Scotland’s women and girls have every opportunity to become involved and stay involved, no matter their background or their stage in life. That will lead to a healthier and better Scotland for everyone.
I am delighted to speak in this debate, which marks women and girls in sport week.
A recent study by the University of Bristol highlighted that by the age of nine, less than one third of girls met the suggested level of sport and fitness activity compared with two thirds of boys. The gap closes in adulthood, but there is still a strong bias in favour of men. The reasons why females are less involved in sport are varied; many have been mentioned by previous speakers. I am pleased that this week gives us an opportunity to turn the spotlight on the gender gap that exists in sporting activity, among young people in particular.
When I think back to my school days and my introduction to sport, or what in those days was referred to as PE or gym, members will not be surprised to hear that I was not really a budding athlete. At school, my cousin was the games captain in sixth year and when I arrived in my first year at the school, I remember vividly the excitement of the PE teachers, who were desperate to meet the potential new games captain, whom they assumed would follow in the family footsteps.
I can say without one shadow of doubt that I did not like hockey, I did not like jumping into a sandpit, and I did not like jumping over hurdles, which I regarded as positively dangerous; in fact, I did not even like jumping over a horse that had no head or tail. As I am sure that members have worked out by now, I did not rise to the dizzy heights of games captain but merely the dizzy heights of being in charge of cutting the oranges for half-time at hockey. That disastrous introduction to sport had a more serious repercussion. It meant that I was not introduced in my early school years to the importance and fun of physical activity.
Thankfully, since those days, there has been a huge expansion in the variety of sports and activities available in schools. Many secondary schools now have swimming pools, jogging has become commonplace, and there has been a huge growth in the provision of keep fit classes, along with the traditional sports of hockey, netball, and track and field. I am delighted that a higher dance course is now on offer as part of the higher curriculum; I would have enjoyed that course.
The importance of that physical activity, and indeed the introduction to physical activity, is clear. Without a shadow of a doubt, physical activity improves mental health and wellbeing and being physically fit leads to improved self-esteem, as we heard earlier.
It is important for physical activity to be introduced at primary school level. It is a common fact that children do not get to run around as much now as they would have done years ago. Bringing sport into primary schools at an early age is ultimately an introduction to keeping fit and sets up a chain of positive reactions, which those children will take through life.
By encouraging more women into sport and physical activity, raising awareness of those who regularly take part and addressing the barriers that cause the differing uptakes between males and females, this week will, I hope, build on the success of last year’s inaugural event.
Many young people see gym membership as a must-have and more and more women and girls are now involved in sports such as football, rugby and martial arts. Things have improved, yet it is clear that work still has to be done to close the gap in physical activity.
We all know the importance of role models and thanks to their success at the Commonwealth and Olympic games, we have enjoyed seeing many sportswomen such as the young boxer Nicola Adams become household names.
We have heard the saying that success breeds success and I am sure that that is very much the case with sport. I hope that the successes that our sportswomen have had will boost the amount of coverage of female sports on television and in the media from the current derisory 7 per cent, which Alison Johnstone mentioned.
Why should media interest be so low? A survey carried out for Insure4Sport contained some interesting findings. When asked which sports they watched, despite the growing profile of women’s football, 44 per cent of respondents said that they would watch men’s football but only 17 per cent women’s. Rugby still showed a heavy male bias, while tennis, athletics and swimming showed much less disparity in people’s preference for watching. Of the 22 sports included in the survey, there were only two in which the female version was more likely to be watched: volleyball and hockey.
Clearly, and despite much progress, there remains a perception that there are sports for men and sports for women, and that is a factor in discouraging some women from participating in certain sports. Some studies suggest that competitive sports are not so attractive to women as they are to men, but few will disagree that, in politics and business, women have shown that they are every bit as competitive as men—although sport does not always have to be a competition: it can just be an activity that people actually enjoy doing.
Participation in sport and physical activities is a vital part of maintaining good health and mental wellbeing, and I am sure that I join all colleagues in hoping that the spotlight on improving female participation lasts far longer than just this week.
It will be my pleasure to support the motion and the amendments tonight.
I welcome the announcement that the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing made yesterday about supporting, with £300,000 of funding, projects that help women and girls to take up sport or physical activity. We all know the benefit of such funds in encouraging more Scots to take up physical activity. Getting active has profound health benefits, physical and mental, so providing money to remove barriers that prevent women and girls from taking up sport or physical activity can only be a positive step towards tackling some of the challenges that our society faces, including obesity, social isolation, loneliness and low self-esteem. As we know, sport and exercise are hugely beneficial for people with depression.
I am someone who enjoys getting on her bike. As I have mentioned in the chamber before, I was very keen to use my bike to reduce my car use when I was working in Aberdeen. I will be quite blunt, however: our cycle routes and pathways are just not good enough, and they are not safe enough. Although I took the step of taking up cycling for my commute in order to try to decrease my carbon output, I quickly gave it up, because it was too damned dangerous.
Last night, I hosted an event as convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, at which we were considering some impacts of climate change. It was an outreach event to which people came to Parliament from places including Elgin, Glasgow and Fife. We were talking about barriers to physical activities that people might want to do that would reduce their carbon footprint. Taking up physical exercise for its own sake is fine, but it has not been mentioned in the debate that exercise can also be a means of commuting or travelling.
There are many barriers to people doing that, however. At the event, infrastructure came out as the number 1 barrier—the safety of roads and the lack of cycle routes. As I know from cycling in Edinburgh, cycle routes are not joined up enough. There will be a point when going along a safe cycle route that the cyclist finds that it stops all of a sudden, and they are at a busy roundabout with their heart in their mouth.
Participants also mentioned schools and, particularly, workplaces not having facilities for bike storage. Safe routes to such destinations and changing facilities were also mentioned by many people who attended the event.
Our youngest participant was nine-year-old Quinn Boyd from Leven. By the way, I can tell Jenny Gilruth right now that she has some competition there. Quinn come up with a fantastic idea that really struck me: she said that every child should have the right to a bike. She did not say, “Let’s give everyone free bikes.” She said “the right to a bike.” I thought that was a good and really powerful idea. I would add to what Quinn said by saying that they should have the right to a safe route to school on their bike, as well.
Earlier in the debate, in my intervention on Brian Whittle’s speech, I made the point that a person does not have to be particularly good at sport to benefit from it. I am with Alison Harris—I was that soldier. My family found it very amusing that I was going to take part in a debate about women in sport. If she is watching—as she sometimes does—my mum will be laughing right now. I am one of those quines who used to worry about getting picked last in PE. I hope they do not do that in schools any more, because it does not build one’s self-esteem to be the last lassie in the group to be picked for the team. When kids have low self-esteem, are shy or are body conscious, that can be manifested in their not being particularly confident at sport, whereas sport could build that self-confidence. There is a vicious circle.
In the formative years, when a person fails to excel at sport it can put them off—even when they enjoy sport for its own sake. I enjoyed sport—I loved basketball and volleyball, in particular. However, it was not until I was taken under the wing of a PE teacher who saw my enjoyment—rather than any particular ability—while I was a pupil at the British School in Rio de Janeiro when I was 12 and 13, that I felt that I could flourish in that often-exclusionary environment. We must remember that teenagers can be very self-conscious; if they are made to feel that they are not good at something they will probably never do it again. Under the care of that PE teacher, I became quite good at both sports. It turns out that enthusiasm can make up for lack of innate natural ability.
I want to address Finlay Carson’s political points on the priorities of local councils. He is not in the chamber at the moment, although he took my intervention earlier. I remind him to take care about making such political points, because across the country local authorities are making decisions that prevent people from accessing sport. Aberdeenshire Council is a Conservative-led council and it has cut visiting specialists—sports specialists who go into small rural schools and give children access to sport that they otherwise would not have.
I have said that sport is for all and that it does not matter whether someone is good at it, but I want to make a quick mention of sports champions for women in my constituency. Everyone knows Hannah Miley—I could use up the rest of my time just talking about her achievements. Christine is shaking her head, so I will not list them all—everyone knows what they are. Hannah still trains at Inverurie pool, which gives young people from the area great confidence.
Natalie Ross, who plays midfield for Celtic and has 11 senior Scotland international caps, is from Ellon and she trained and played with Ellon Meadows Football Club—she was the only girl playing for the boys club. I want to squeeze in a wee mention for John Duffus, who coaches Aberdeen Ladies Football Club’s ladies and girls, and who recently received an award for his contribution to women in football.
I want to make a quick mention—
You cannot make a quick mention of anything, Ms Martin.
It is very nice to be friendly, but when I am in the chair I am the Presiding Officer, so you should not address me as “Christine”. You might not have noticed it, but other members did.
I am pleased to be closing this afternoon’s debate for Scottish Labour, marking Scotland’s second annual women and girls in sport week. I am grateful for the support for our amendment from across the chamber. It has been a good-humoured debate, and we have heard a range of informative and interesting speeches that have reflected on how we can work together to make sport in Scotland more accessible for women. We have also heard about the numerous health and wellbeing benefits of sport.
In his speech, Anas Sarwar rightly highlighted the link between poverty and participation. The cost of sports kit and of entry to sporting facilities can be a significant barrier to participation. Anas Sarwar also spoke about the importance of tackling obesity and the role that sport plays in mental health, wellbeing and mood.
Brian Whittle made an interesting point about the lack of women coaches. I have to say that it was not something to which I gave much thought when I was preparing for the debate, but what better role model could there be than a woman coach? Anas Sarwar also made that point.
Alison Johnstone mentioned the massive difference between coverage of men and coverage of women in the news on sport. How can we showcase the performance of women if there is little or no media coverage of it for people to see?
Many members spoke about the long-term health benefits of sport, the disparity in participation rates and the role that we, as parliamentarians, can play in promoting and encouraging physical activity.
Liam McArthur named several of our successful athletes, and I will do the same later in my speech. I could be wrong, Presiding Officer, but I think that George Adam might have mentioned Paisley and St Mirren in his contribution.
In all seriousness, recent research on equality in sport that was published by sportscotland illuminated the gender disparity in participation. It revealed that more men than women regularly participate in sport and that the decline in women’s participation in sport begins between the ages of 13 and 15. That is why the active schools programme, which encourages young people to become more active at school, is an extremely important initiative. All 32 local authorities are involved in the programme, which will play a pivotal role in encouraging young women and girls to become more involved in sport and physical activity.
I imagine that most members will have taken part in sport at school with varying degrees of enthusiasm and varying degrees of success. Just as Sandra White spoke of her sporting prowess, I will speak of mine. At school, I was a member of the hockey team and the volleyball team, I was a regular in the relay team and I was pretty good at the hurdles, but my only claim to physical activity now is that I walk a lot—I walk very quickly, but that is the extent of my physical activity. I am pretty sure that that will be reflected across the chamber, because our participation in sport tends to diminish or stop when we leave school.
It is clear that more must be done to encourage young women to engage in sporting activity. Research shows that only 33 per cent of members of playing hubs are women. The underrepresentation of women in sport is reflective of the underrepresentation of women in the public sphere throughout society. This year might mark the centenary of the suffragettes, who fought for women’s equality at the ballot box, but the fight for equality endures. Women are still fighting for their rights in Parliament, in the workplace and in all aspects of society.
I want to close on a positive note by illuminating the numerous successes of inspirational Scottish women in sport so far this year. Other members have highlighted many of their successes—in his opening remarks, Joe FitzPatrick spoke with pride about some of their achievements.
In April, at the Commonwealth games, we had the privilege of witnessing a new generation of Scottish women competing and winning in their respective sports against some of the most experienced and respected athletes in the world. On the Gold Coast, the women of team Scotland won two gold medals, five silver medals and six bronze medals. Our gold medal winners included Katie Archibald in the individual pursuit cycling and, in diving, Grace Reid in the 1m springboard competition. Our silver medal winners included Hannah Miley—who has already been mentioned—Neah Evans, Eilidh Doyle, Caroline Brown, Kay Moran and Stacey McDougall. Katie Archibald added to her gold medal with a silver in the points race. Our bronze medal winners included Linda Pearson, Seonaid McIntosh, Claire Johnston, Lesley Doig, Kirsty Gilmour and Neah Evans.
In the summer, there was further success, as Inverness-born Laura Muir became the first British woman to win the European 1,500m title at the European championships in Berlin, and in September, the Scottish women’s national football team secured qualification for the FIFA women’s world cup for the first time.
To achieve gender parity in sport participation, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that organised sport is more accessible and inclusive for young women and girls. The increasing visibility of Scottish women in sport is extremely positive and I am extremely hopeful that the myriad successes that have been achieved by Scottish sportswomen throughout 2018 can act as a catalyst that inspires our country’s stars of the future—our next Gemma Fay, our next Katie Archibald and our next Laura Muir.
I am delighted to close what has been a really good debate on behalf of my Scottish Conservative colleagues. We wanted to mark and be involved in the women and girls in sport week. In my experience, sport is vital for physical and mental health. It encourages the creation of friendships, teamwork, national pride and community spirit. I could hear the pride in everyone’s voices today, and I would like to take this opportunity, on everyone’s behalf, to thank the Scottish sportswomen who do so much for our country.
My constituency is in the Scottish Borders, as many of you know, and it is awash with fantastic sportswomen, including team GB and Scotland hockey midfielder Sarah Robertson from Selkirk, Sammi Kinghorn from Gordon—the fastest ever female British wheelchair racer, regardless of classification—and freestyle swimmer Lucy Hope from Jedburgh, who won a gold medal at the 2018 European aquatics championships.
Like many MSPs—like Liam McArthur supporting Orkney netball star Sarah MacPhail’s selection to the Scotland under-21s, or George Adam supporting Paisley’s women’s football team—I try to get involved in supporting as many sporting groups as possible, for example by playing women’s rugby with the club at Kelso.
Claire Baker and Anas Sarwar spoke about the Scottish health survey, and the fact remains that extensive research still shows low rates of women and girls participating in sport. Participation in sport by girls at a young age is crucial, and so is keeping that going. Angus MacDonald talked about the dropouts in sport and the retention problems that we have, and barriers still exist for girls. Gillian Martin spoke about lack of self-esteem, lack of opportunities and negative experiences of school PE lessons, and I listened to Alison Harris as she talked about cutting the oranges. Actually, she was contributing, and I hope that she felt involved as well, even if she did not really like sport. Everyone has a role, including volunteers.
Research shows that girls are less positive about their school experiences of physical education than boys are. We also heard that today. According to a Women in Sport study published only last November, 64 per cent of girls said that their school encouraged them to take part in sport, compared with 72 per cent of boys. Evidence shows that, as girls move into their teenage years, sport participation reduces and stays lower than that of boys. We have got to break down those barriers. Nothing should hold girls back from taking part in sport, regardless of where they live. Finlay Carson spoke about the challenges that transport presents to access to sport in his constituency, which is a rural area.
Last year, sportscotland published eight recommendations, ranging from providing some single-sex opportunities to involving more women in the planning of sporting events. We all welcome the Scottish Government announcement of the £2 million to reduce inequalities in sport, including encouraging more women and girls into sport. Brian Whittle and the Scottish Conservatives argue that the goal must be equal access for all, irrespective of background or personal circumstance, and that includes getting the right solution to the rural-urban divide.
Many MSPs acknowledge that there are not enough female coaches and role models. In fact, 31 per cent of coaches across the UK are female. Sportscotland is encouraging more women to get involved in coaching by offering subsidies, but there is still a long way to go. As we approach the midway point of the 10-year national strategy entitled “A More Active Scotland: Scotland’s Physical Activity Delivery Plan”, the Scottish Government must set targets to close the physical activity gender gap that is exposed by the statistics.
Alison Johnstone talked about media coverage, and she is right. Women’s sport makes up only 7 per cent of media coverage. I also learned of the excellent girls do sport development, which is run by Scottish Women in Sport in collaboration with the University of the West of Scotland. It is an ambitious new partnership that will see 10 programmes created by students, graduates and staff at the university, focusing on women in sport and highlighting one sport per show.
Many members spoke about role models and the link between grass-roots and elite sports. More screening and coverage of women’s sports will allow more girls to see female role models and to be inspired to pick up a racquet or put on football boots. It was interesting to learn that the BBC has committed to deliver a further 500 hours of live women’s sports coverage. I hope to catch the netball world cup final next year, which the BBC has promised to televise.
We on the Conservative side of the chamber agree that sport for women and girls is a must, and it must be more accessible. We still have a long way to go. Poverty is a key determining factor, and there is a link between deprivation and low participation. Barriers also include a lack of transport and the cost of transport, issues with venue access and venue hire, and a lack of equipment. Extra-curricular activities rely on volunteers, who are key to delivering sport outwith the two hours that are currently delivered in schools. More must be done to encourage volunteer participation and to establish a stronger bond between grass-roots and elite sports. Role models are also key.
The Scottish Government acknowledges that
“sport and physical health improves health and wellbeing” and improves self-esteem. It is time for the minister to galvanise the support that he has heard from members of all parties today. It is time for lasting change, not just for women and girls but for everybody.
I very much welcome the contributions from members on all sides of the chamber. Before I reflect on the points that were made during the debate, I would like to say how pleased I am that, during our year of young people, we continue to find ways to celebrate having young people’s voices heard and to be participants in shaping and driving change. Throughout the women and girls in sport week, I have been struck by the many great examples of girls who have built confidence, made friendships, built resilience and gained skills through physical activity or sport. I look forward very much to visiting Broughton high school tomorrow for its active girls day, and to hearing direct from the girls about the difference that sport has made to them.
A joined-up approach in which we work collaboratively across Government departments and across sectors and barriers will ensure that we continue to improve opportunities for girls and women throughout Scotland. Today is another great opportunity to explore how, together, we can make Scotland an ACE—adverse childhood event—aware nation. We are committed to embedding an understanding of ACEs across all of Government and to working collaboratively to drive progress across Scotland. Mitigating the impact of ACEs and supporting resilience is crucial to reduce the risk of people with ACEs experiencing negative long-term impacts and to break the cycle of future ACEs in the next generation. There is really good evidence that participation in sport builds resilience and mitigates the effect of adverse childhood experiences. There is growing interest and emerging practice in the Scottish sports sector that seeks to provide sport and physical activity opportunities that take account of ACEs and allow young people to build their resilience. For example, active schools teams in some local authorities have programmes that are specifically designed for girls who are vulnerable or who have disengaged from school, and which combine youth work approaches with carefully structured sport and physical activity opportunities.
The women and girls in sport advisory board is very keen to have conversations with different age groups in order to fully understand the issues. Consultation is important to provide a platform for girls and women to have their voices heard. It will help to shape and influence opportunities and recommendations on what more the Government can do, and empower girls and women to overcome the barriers.
As other members have done, I will talk about my sporting prowess—although, like Gillian Martin’s experience, mine is much more a fine example of enthusiastic joining in rather than skill. My passion for rugby started when I was young, although I did not play it until my 20s when the hospital in which I worked had a team. I gave it a try and found that I absolutely loved the physicality, the teamwork and the body confidence that came from playing. As Liam McArthur said, rugby is a sport for all shapes and sizes. I also agree with Liam that the Orkney Dragons are an inspirational team. The captain, Jo Inkster, is a case in point. She was a rugby mum who took up the sport in her late 30s and led her team to a meteoric rise, lifting silverware within a very short time of starting.
There are other inspirational women in my sport. Jade Konkel was the first ever professional female rugby player in Scotland. Dee Bradbury, who we have heard of before, is the most amazing woman. She first excelled in athletics, Brian Whittle’s sport, then switched code in her late 30s to rugby. These are strong, fearless women who are participating and excelling in a contact sport and are pioneers, trailblazers and role models for us all.
Mary Fee and Alison Harris would be very welcome in the Scottish Parliament rugby team, which I now play in, even if it is just to cut oranges. They can come along and share in the camaraderie, because one of the other joys of sport that we have not mentioned so far is how it can bring together people of very different backgrounds and beliefs. The fact that I play in a team alongside the Tory front bench is a fine testament to that.
Before I leave the subject of Scottish rugby, I commend the partnership between Scottish Rugby and Girlguiding Scotland—a fabulous collaboration that brings together two of my favourite things. I hope that we see more links like that in future.
Brian Whittle’s speech gave us an insight into his long passion about and involvement in sport. It also gave us a wonderful insight into how far we have come.
I can personally commend the daily mile to Anas Sarwar and other members as a very easy way for us all to get our exercise in. As Claire Baker said, it started in her region and has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Alison Johnstone and Alison Harris were absolutely right about media coverage of women’s sport. That is a huge bugbear for me and other women in the chamber, and I agree that it is vital that that improves if participation is to improve.
Jenny Gilruth and Brian Whittle rightly made the link between sport and closing the attainment gap, which I am pleased to hear is being widely recognised. Jenny Gilruth’s speech was excellent—I loved that she highlighted that Scottish women’s football is leading the way in ethical sponsorship.
Finlay Carson quite rightly highlighted the particular challenges faced by rural athletes. As a Highlands and Islands MSP and indeed as a Highlands and Islands mum, I know that situation well. The growth and flourishing of women’s shinty is an example of how things might be improved in other parts of the country. Sandra White mentioned a lovely project, Bike for Good, which highlighted that it is never too late to take up a new sport and learn a new skill, and that camaraderie is one of the greatest benefits that we get from sport.
Gillian Martin made some fine points about active travel. Although the £80 million in this year’s budget for active travel was a doubling of investment that will make a huge difference, there is always more that we can do.
Several members made a correct observation about female coaches. Only 31 per cent of coaches throughout the United Kingdom are women. We recognise the need for more female coaches and sporting leaders to attract the next generation into sport. Sportscotland recognises that and from 2016 to 2018 it provided financial subsidies to support coaches to gain coaching qualifications—more than 50 per cent of those coaches were women.
It is also key that we enable our young female sporting leaders to shine. The sportscotland young people’s sports panel boasts a really impressive 14 women members out of 19.
We very much welcome the positive trend in the overall measure of physical activity among adults since 2012, seen in the recent health survey. A wide range of organisations in Scotland are working very hard to encourage and support people in Scotland to be more active, more often, enabling more people to experience the many physical and mental health benefits of being active.
The Scottish Government’s emphasis on empowering communities is important. When communities feel empowered, evidence shows that that leads to increased confidence and skills, more people volunteering, greater satisfaction with quality of life in the neighbourhood and greater engagement in local democracy.
Access to opportunities to highlight the many benefits of physical activity and sport is a right that we want everyone to have. Achieving our vision of a Scotland where people are more active, more often is therefore both an outcome of following those principles and a means of advancing the principles in their own right. If we work together in driving forward those improvements, we will drive forward change for women and girls right across Scotland, providing them with every opportunity to participate.
I thank all members for their contributions to the debate and for the contribution that it has made to raising awareness by discussing the opportunities in sport and physical activity for women and girls. I finish by reminding members that all of us in this chamber are leaders. Let us not just talk about it, but do it. To paraphrase George Adam, we should not just spectate; let us participate.