Why we need to close the gender gap in sport

20 April 2017 by
First published: 11 April 2016

Have you ever wondered why the most successful female athletes earn less than their male counterparts? How about why so few elite sportswomen have the profile their talent deserves? Or maybe why our girls are still growing up believing that sport is ‘for boys’?

Sport has a big problem when it comes to gender. Fewer women than men engage in sport. Talented female athletes earn less in sponsorship and prize money than their male counterparts and there are still some sports – boxing and ski jumping – that until women were not allowed to complete in at the Olympics until recently. While we’ve come a long way since the days of Roberta Gibb sneaking in to the Boston Marathon because it’s organisers saw the race as unsuitable for women, there is still a long way to go before we achieve equality in sport.

Kicking Off examines the battles being fought by women on the sports fields, in the newsrooms and behind the scenes at every major broadcaster, breaking them down to discover if and how they can ever be won. Women are not only fighting for their right to complete, but also to ensure the vital column inches that secure the exposure needed to attract sponsors that keep their sports afloat. This is a fascinating book that should be on the reading list of not just every woman in sport, but anyone who wants to build a fairer future.

Through interviews with icons such as Billie Jean King, Nicole Cooke, Maggie Alphonsi, Kelly Smith and Clare Connor, Sport journalist Sarah Shephard explores the struggles that women go through to reach the top in their sport. The sacrifices they make and the (sometimes) enormous barriers they overcome. It’s hard not to marvel at the courage and tenacity of these women, and Sarah’s open and engaging style draws you in to the stories in a way that doesn’t simply peak your interest, but also sharpens your awareness of the gravity of the issues. This is important because these issues are serious; they reflect deeply ingrained ideologies around gender in society. These are ideologies we often take for granted about the traits and abilities of the sexes, ideologies that are outdated and holding women back from reaching their potential.

As well as telling the stories of women in sport, Kicking Off discusses issues like salary and sponsorship levels, the body image conflict that many sportswomen suffer and the sexism that is still rife in some sporting realms. This might all sound a bit heavy, but Sarah conveys her messages in such an accessible way that this book becomes an easy read that you can dip in and out of on your commute. There’s nothing like a little inspiration on the 8:15am train to work!

Kicking Off is a much-needed book that might just help us to switch our focus from the battlefield to the sports field once and for all. After all, the more we understand the challenges we’re up against, and why they are there, the better prepared we are to overcome them.

Kicking off , Sarah Shephard, £12.08, www.amazon.co.uk