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Q&A: Alice Jones and Rachel Taylor, Women's University Sport Captains

Women’s rugby and football captains, Alice Jones and Rachel Taylor, discuss attitudes towards women’s sports

How important is it to get women and girls involved in sport? What are the benefits?

RT: It is very important and something which I have always believed in. There is a sport for everyone no matter what your age, ability or fitness levels so nobody should be discouraged from getting involved and
everybody has to start somewhere! Sport has so many benefits, from social
benefits, like working as a team and making friends, to physical benefits, such
as increasing your fitness and general well-being. From a personal perspective,
I think sport has determined the person I am today; it has given me so much confidence
and I have developed skills such as leadership and communication. I always want
to push and challenge myself, which in my opinion has stemmed from playing high
level sport.  Sport has always been a big
part of my life and something I couldn’t imagine not doing now.

AJ: It is imperative to get
women and girls involved in sport. Sport is a form of expression; freedom of
expression is extremely valuable in the fight to bridge gender inequalities and
empower women. The more that women are involved in sport (whether as a
participant or as a spectator), the greater the demand for media coverage, and
If we increase the awareness of women in sport, it will result in the social
and political transformation of gender norms. Sport gives women a voice they
might not have previously had. Sport is also a great way to release endorphins
and improve mental health. In a team sport especially, you have a great support
network and a sense of family, which means you always have somebody to talk to.

Do you think stereotypes of what constitutes a male or female sport have been lessened in recent years?

RT: Yes, to an extent. I think there is still an underlying
stereotype that some sports are for males and some are for females, but this is
slowly being eroded as attitudes within society are changing. I think this has
stemmed from more people dispelling the stereotypes and getting involved with
new things, which has led to greater awareness and support from the public.
People are now more aware that sport is not gender specific and can be enjoyed
by all at any level, from participating to keep fit and for social reasons to
being a professional sportsperson.

AJ: In an ideal world, I would
like to ask the question ‘name a male/female sport’ and for the answer to be, ‘there
isn’t one’. Yet Rugby, for example, is seen as a very aggressive, male
dominated sport. However, I think there has been a huge step in the right direction
towards sporting equality. In recent years, the women’s six nations have been
broadcast on sky and women’s football has seen increasing coverage on
mainstream channels. I put this down to several factors: the changing
definition on what it means to be masculine / feminine (and the abolition of
these terms in the sporting context) and the willingness of people to accept
that all sport should be gender fluid. The aspect that brings people together
(regardless of gender) is a love for the sport.

How can we contribute to dispelling these stereotypes further?

RT: I think there needs to be greater levels of opportunity
to get involved and try new sports. If you never try something you will not
know whether you like it or not. This should start from school, especially during
physical education lessons where there should not be an onus placed on
stereotypical male and female sports. I remember at school, the boys played
football and the girls played netball, and while I was given the option to play
football with the boys, others were not. If more people get involved with sport
at an earlier age, this will help to dispel stereotypes, and families will
become more accustomed to the idea while friends will want to also get

AJ: We need to support each
other, our housemates, our friends, our family, to get involved in sport and to
participate in things they have never tried before. It is important to make
sport fun and enjoyable. We hold termly ‘give it a go’ sessions and also host
touch rugby tournaments to try and increase involvement in the sport and dispel
the myths that all rugby is aggressive and violent. It’s important to create a
discussion about sport and the stereotypes that people assign to different
sports; talking about things is one of the best ways to work through problems
and find mutual solutions. I think it’s very important that men and women
support each other, by watching each other’s games, encouraging participation
in the same sport, and working together to do this.

Are there any particular sports that you think women are especially discouraged from
taking part in? And conversely, are there any that you feel still largely exclude men?

RT: I don’t think sports especially discourage participation,
but there is often a stark difference in the opportunities to get involved
which creates a form of discouragement. For example, there are schools that
don’t have a girl’s football team and might not even have one in the local
area. However, opportunities are getting better and this progression will
hopefully lead to more opportunities for girls and women in the sporting world.
I would say men experience less discouragement when it comes to sport, but it
is still evident. For example, I am not aware of male netball teams however, I
do know men who have played in mixed netball teams and when I ran the Law
Society Netball and Football teams at University both were advertised as mixed
sports to try and dispel any stereotypes and we had both genders attend
training and matches which was good to see.

AJ: I don’t necessarily think
women are discouraged from taking part in sport but the ster
eotypes surrounding contact sports (especially for
women) are significant enough to prevent the uptake of the sport.

 How do you find coverage of women’s sport in the media and on TV? Is there enough or could more be done?

RT: Women’s sport is shown significantly less on the
television, reported less in newspapers and in general is given less attention
than male sport. Despite this, women’s coverage is growing, and more women’s
sports are being shown on T.V., and hopefully with growth in spectator numbers
this will only continue. However, there is still a lot more to be done with
more regular coverage and the times at which things are shown. For example, the
Women’s Football Super-League show (alike to Match of the Day) is shown very
late at night which means it is not as accessible as other similar shows which
are shown at earlier times. Women’s sport could be given more funding and
advertisement; an example is the ‘This Girl Can’ week, which encourages female
involvement in sport. This is usually a vastly successful week of the year but
more initiatives like this could be put in place to really drive women’s sport.

AJ: The fact that I have to
stream a women’s rugby match if I want to watch it as it is not broadcast on
the most popular TV channels is testament to the fact that more can definitely
be done. When is the last time you watched a women’s team play sport on ITV or
BBC? Probably the Olympics. But male dominated sports are played on TV almost
daily. We definitely need more media coverage, and should especially increase
the coverage of female role models.

Do you think the University do enough to promote and support women’s sport?

RT: I have never felt that university women’s sport has been at
a disadvantage to male sport in relation to opportunities and funding, which I
think is really promising to be a part of. I think the University aims to
ensure that it offers equal opportunities for all in relation to sport.

AJ: The University supports and
encourages the participation of women in sport. Women’s rugby were awarded
focus sport this year and have access to strength and conditioning session in
the gym. Speaking on behalf of the rugby club, we need to encourage high-level
rugby players to join the University of York through increasing the amount of
scholarships available and offering scholarships to those who are not necessarily
playing at national level (as this is near impossible for women’s rugby) but
county level as well.

What are your audiences like at matches? Do you think there is still a reluctance to support women’s sport?

RT: Audiences
at our fixtures tend to be friends and family members. However, at big fixtures
such as Roses we have had a lot more support with people unknown to the club
choosing to come down and watch our matches. I think this has a lot to do with
accessibility with our fixtures being on a Wednesday afternoon when people have
work but even if they were at a different time, I do not think we would have
that many more people come to watch. In comparison, the Women’s Super League
and Women’s Championship have decent attendances with fixtures being played on
a Sunday afternoon. However, this is still a long way off the men’s game in
relation to attendances but it is slowly starting to grow.

AJ: We do not usually have a
great audience turn out at matches, which is disappointing considering our
success. We would love for more people to get involved, to watch our games and
support us as much as possible. There is not so much a reluctance to support
women’s sport, but people do not find it as interesting. With increasing
funding for women in sport, the standard has certainly increased significantly
and I think this will encourage more spectators at women’s sporting events.

Have you experienced any prejudice in sport?

RT: When I was younger, I played for my local boy’s football
team. Whenever we came up against a new team, I would get comments such as
‘they’ve got a girl playing this will be easy’ and they would simply expect me
to not be very good. Throughout the game, I would win over their respect, but the
starting point would always be that girls can’t play football. Despite this, I
always relished in proving people wrong and I had a lot of support from my
team-mates, managers and family to spur me on. Throughout my time at school, I
had to prove to the boys that I was good enough to play with them, but once I
had done this, I was accepted as one of their own. Furthermore, when I signed
for an Academy at aged 8, people began to take me and sport more seriously.
Football has not always been the only sport I have played, having had opportunities
to play basketball, netball, dancing and hockey.

AJ: I have experienced sexism in
sport, especially on nights out. Some of the frequent comments other teammates
and I are met with include: ‘Oh you play rugby… so you’re a lesbian, I’ll stay
well away then’, ‘Do you play actual contact?’, ‘You won’t be anywhere near as
good as we are’, and ‘Show me your muscles’. I think this is a common problem
with respect to contact sports involving women. We try hard to break down these
stereotypes and rather than branding people by their gender or sexuality, we
should see rugby players as fit, able, talented people.

How important is it for women’s rugby to be closing Roses this year? Have you noticed any opposition?

RT: It is so important and absolutely amazing that both York
and Lancaster are sending out a message of equality and equal opportunities for
all. I think it is nice that the tradition of having rugby as the closing
ceremony sport has been retained, as this has always been an exciting watch for
spectators, but that the women are getting the chance to play in such a big
occasion. Women’s Rugby are such a deserving club to get this opportunity as
they have been smashing their league this season having only just been promoted
last season. It is definitely right to reward the club’s success in BUCS and it
will only give them more fight and determination to win both the league and

AJ: It is first time in history
that a women’s sport has closed Roses and it is the greatest honour. We want to
showcase all the hard work we’ve put in over the past two seasons. We are working towards winning the league (again) and potentially playing in the
premiership division. To demonstrate our success in front of a home crowd will
be amazing, and it will be great to play a double header with men’s rugby and
finish Roses with a win. I am hoping that we will inspire more women to get
involved in contact sports. We have been met with some opposition but this has
only been mild. There is no sound argument to dispute the fact that we should
close roses; given that we are one of the most successful sports clubs on
campus, we are deserving of the closing ceremony.

Who are your female sport idols?

RT: Growing up, from a football perspective, I always looked up
to Kelly Smith. She was a striker for both Arsenal and England and was
therefore a great role model for girls who played football to aspire to be
like. In terms of wider sporting idols, I have always admired Jessica Ennis; I
was given the opportunity to meet her at a young age and she spoke about her
involvement in sport and how she became successful in athletics. Being from
Yorkshire, it was nice to have such a successful sports woman living close-by
and to have the opportunity to watch her train.

AJ: Jessica Ennis was the person
I always watched whilst growing up. I idolised her as she was incredibly
talented, she never gave up and encouraged me to be a competitive, determined
sportswoman. Sportswomen are fantastic role models for young girls; they show a
strong, competitive, determined persona. This is so important as it conveys the
message that anything is possible. Your gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality,
religion does not hinder your ability to play sport.

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