Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson has renewed her call for a national sports ombudsman who can hold governing bodies to account, after a Daily Telegraph survey of elite British sportswomen found alarming levels of harassment, bullying and sexism.
Grey-Thompson, the winner of 11 Paralympic gold medals and now a cross-party peer, led a year-long review into the duty of care provided for British athletes and said that she was not surprised by the results of The Telegraph research. Almost a third of British elite sportswomen said that they had suffered sexual harassment, 49 per cent had been the victim of bullying, 54 per cent of sportswomen said that they had suffered gender discrimination and almost three-quarters felt judged on how they look.
A total of 73 per cent of the 301 respondents also felt agreement with Andy Murray’s statement that: “I’ve been involved in sport my whole life and the level of sexism is unreal.”
Grey-Thompson responded to the headline statistics by asking, “Where is the duty of care?” and told The Telegraph that “the figures don’t surprise me, and match with many things that I was told through the work I did”.
Grey-Thompson believes that there have been improvements since her duty of care review was published in 2017, but remains concerned at variance in the systems of reporting issues in different sports. “I asked for an ombudsman and I still think that is needed,” she said. “The reality of sport is that it comes with many challenges, but these should not be in the way that women and girls are treated. Elite sport should not leave athletes feeling broken.
“Many individuals who spoke to me did not want to be specifically included, and in part this was around being identified. Every organisation in the system needs to support athletes, and take this very seriously. There must be a duty of care towards all.”
The charity Women in Sport said that there were also parallels to its research last year, which found that 38 per cent of women working in sport had experienced discrimination in the workplace.
They are now developing a “culture health check” to aid sports organisations. “There is still a lot of work to do to eradicate sexism in sport and achieve gender equality in the sector,” said a statement. The Telegraph has this week launched an unprecedented publishing commitment to transform the profile and visibility of women’s sport, through enhanced coverage across print and digital platforms, but also by campaigning on key issues to inspire participation.
The challenge to encourage girls into sport was underlined on Thursday with the publication of research by Sport England to complement its survey last year which showed that only 14 per cent of girls and 20 per cent of boys aged between five and 16 were meeting the chief medical officer’s guidelines of more than 60 minutes of activity every day.
The new survey of 130,000 children found that, even between the ages of five and seven, girls were far less likely to take part in team sports, but that more girls still said they loved being active.
Simply having fun was the main incentive for all children to regularly take part in sport, although girls were found to be less likely than boys to say they enjoyed or felt confident about doing sport and physical activity.
“There is a gender gap,” said Lisa O’Keefe, Sport England’s director of insight. “At that really young age already boys and girls are starting to select themselves in or out, whether that be activity, whether that be sport.
“We need to provide variety and choice – and it has to be delivered in the right way. Parents have a key role. Of children who go on to lead an active life, we know that one of the most important factors growing up is an active mother.”
Those children who were active were found to be happier, more resilient and more trusting of other children and young people.
“There is a massive prize here if we get this right. It is about health benefits but it goes well beyond that,” O’Keefe said. “It’s also tempting to think physical literacy is developed at a younger age and then it is ‘job done’, but what this research is showing us is that as children get older they are losing their confidence and enjoyment for sporting activities. This is particularly true of girls and young women.”
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