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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 20 April 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Ukraine (Displaced People), Cost of Living, Ferries, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Sexism in Football


Contents


Sexism in Football

The final item of business is a member’s business debate on motion S6M-03367, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on sexism in football. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I encourage members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now, or as soon as possible. I call Joe FitzPatrick to open the debate, for around seven minutes.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns the findings of a recent investigation, undertaken by the Courier and Press & Journal, which, it believes, shows the scale of sexist abuse facing those involved in women's football in Scotland; notes with concern that the investigation found that 60% of female respondents had experienced sexism in football, and that sexism was the most commonly encountered form of abuse experienced by female players; highlights that, according to the investigation, just 8% of respondents believe that the football industry does enough to reduce discriminatory behaviour towards women; notes that 86% of respondents think that increasing media coverage of women’s football could attract more people to the sport; welcomes increased participation in women’s football in Scotland, including in Dundee; understands that the number of registered female players in Scotland increased by 21% during 2019; notes the physical and mental health benefits of participation in sport; commends the work of HerGameToo which, it understands, strives to support, empower and progress women’s football; strongly believes that discrimination of any kind has no place in sport; applauds journalists Sophie Goodwin and Stephen Stewart for conducting this important work, and notes the calls for action to be taken now to stamp out what it sees as the culture of misogyny in football.

18:09  

I am grateful to members from across the chamber for supporting the motion.

I pay tribute to journalists Sophie Goodwin and Stephen Stewart for their investigation, which has highlighted the serious issues that are encountered by female footballers in Scotland. I will start by laying out some of its shocking findings. Sixty per cent of female respondents said that they have experienced sexism in football, and just 8 per cent of respondents said that they believe that football does enough to reduce discriminatory behaviour towards women. Those are findings that none of us should be willing to accept—as, I am sure, members here would agree.

It is critical that we call out sexism, and not just in football or other sport, but in all walks of life. We should be under no illusion: sexism is a societal issue, and not one that is present only in football. Sport has always provided a platform for unity and for social justice, so I believe and hope that sport can be part of the solution to not only sexism, but to other societal prejudices including racism and sectarianism.

Before I turn to the challenges in more detail, I note that it is important to welcome the progress that has been made in women’s football in Scotland. It is fantastic to see interest in the women’s game growing domestically and internationally. It is encouraging that our women’s national team is now playing home games at Hampden. Just last week, 7,804 fans attended Scotland’s women’s world cup qualifier with Spain, which was a record attendance for a competitive home game. I am sure that members across the chamber will join me in wishing the team every success in their remaining world cup qualifiers.

I also want to mention some of the women’s football teams in Dundee—Dundee United Women’s Football Club, Dryburgh Athletic Community Club, Dundee City West Women’s Football Club and Dundee St James Football Club. They have enjoyed some significant success of late. Dundee United have been promoted from Scottish women’s premier league 2 and Dryburgh Athletic won the championship cup. Both huge achievements have helped to inspire greater participation. However, we must accept that the women’s game—as do women, in fact—faces barriers that exist for no reason other than that the players are women.

So, what steps can be taken to eradicate sexism from football? That is a big question, but there is definitely not just one simple answer. It is important that we recognise that each and every one of us needs to lead by example: people need to take personal responsibility and adjust their behaviour. I am firmly of the belief that men, specifically, need to take responsibility and change our attitudes to football and female participation. We need to call out misogyny and sexism wherever we see it. That might be on social media, at football matches or elsewhere in society. We all need to tackle it head on, but it is important that we do so in a way that also calls on men to be part of the solution. Most clubs, players and fans see the harm, but do not know what to do, so we must work together across society to make progress. Football clubs also have a role to play.

Everyone in the chamber will be familiar with the David Goodwillie transfer earlier this season, which led to Raith Rovers Women and Girls Football Club severing ties with the men’s club and reforming as McDermid Ladies. Incidents such as that undoubtedly heavily impact on female participation in sport. There was, rightly, widespread condemnation of the transfer and McDermid Ladies have my full support. I am sure that members across the chamber will agree. Sadly, the player in question then looked set to return to Clyde Football Club, which resulted in Clyde Ladies FC deciding to fold.

Aileen Campbell, who is the chief executive officer of Scottish Women’s Football, expressed concern and called into question the decision making, which she said could see

“women side-lined or women’s clubs treated as an afterthought.”

She also made what I think is a crucial point, which was that women’s football is growing but it is fragile. As she put it,

“Without meaningful support, investment and respect women’s football will never realise its full potential.”

I welcome the Scottish Football Association’s “Accelerate our game” strategy, which seeks to increase participation to over 25,000 registered players by 2025. The ambition requires investment and it requires women being in leadership roles. Football must be equally accessible to all.

Representation is also important. As things stand, women are significantly underrepresented on professional football club boards, which is reflected in the boards of the SFA and the Scottish Professional Football League. We need to do more to get more women into senior roles in football clubs. That would give a bigger voice to women’s football, promote greater participation by women and girls and help clubs to play their part in addressing sexism.

We also need to make progress to ensure that women are represented in the media, by building on the success of Jane Lewis, Leanne Creighton, Joelle Murray, Gemma Fay and others to ensure that broadcasters play their part in showcasing women’s football. Eighty-six per cent of respondents to Sophie Goodwin’s and Stephen Stewart’s investigation said that increasing media coverage of women’s football would attract more people into the sport. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it, so representation and role models matter.

My final point is about the role that education can play. Scotland’s women’s team captain, Rachel Corsie, has said that

“she believes abusive behaviour is a wider reflection of our society and the best way to stop such incidents is to continue to educate and call out any forms of abuse.”

We have seen great work recently from campaigns such as HerGameToo and Police Scotland’s “That guy”, which ignite a powerful conversation across Scotland and call on men to make a difference by taking a hard look at our attitudes and behaviour at home, at work and when socialising. We need to build on the success and momentum of such campaigns.

Specifically, I would like clubs across Scotland to facilitate educational workshops to address sexism in football. Graham Goulden, who is a former chief inspector and key member of the Scottish violence reduction unit, facilitates workshops that adopt a bystander approach. He has worked with a range of organisations and sports clubs on how they can identify warning signs of unhealthy behaviours, and on how to empower them to use their leadership roles to promote greater choice and change. I believe that a collaboration between Graham and Scottish football clubs could be incredibly fruitful, so I encourage football clubs to reach out to him to discuss how they could work together. I hope that the Minister for Public Health, Women's Health and Sport will agree to discuss with me how the Scottish Government could help to facilitate that.

I conclude by once more thanking members from across the chamber for supporting the motion and allowing us to have the debate.

I truly believe that by working together we can tackle sexism and misogyny in football and in wider society. We all know the benefits of playing sport—it improves physical and mental health, tackles isolation and loneliness and boosts self-esteem. Those benefits should be available to everyone, regardless of gender, race or ability.

I look forward to hearing colleagues’ contributions and to hearing from the minister about the Scottish Government’s work to tackle all forms of discrimination in sport, and to increase female participation.

18:17  

I am grateful to be contributing to this members’ business debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I thank Joe Fitzpatrick for bringing the debate to the chamber.

For centuries, women have had to fight for recognition in every aspect of life. Sport is no different from any other aspect. Women’s participation in football can be traced as far back as the 17th century. Prior to its official recognition in 1971 by the Scottish Football Association, women’s football had faced a formal ban that was largely due to the perception that the sport was too manly, or too dangerous and physically demanding for women.

However, there has been progress. Thanks to the work of organisations such as HerGameToo and local grass-roots teams, women’s football has record levels of participation, record attendances at domestic and international levels and record visibility. However, the statistics that are detailed in the motion about the sexism and abuse that are experienced by female players is concerning.

Unfortunately, outdated attitudes to women’s participation in football still exist. In fact, as recently as last week, the Northern Ireland women’s football boss made headlines when he said that second goals in women’s football come so soon after the first because

“women are more emotional than men.”

Such language damages women’s football and undermines its credibility.

How do we change perceptions? A survey by the Scottish Football Supporters Association and HerGameToo revealed that one in four female football fans has suffered misogynistic or sexist abuse at Scottish football matches; that 61 per cent had witnessed online sexist abuse; that 31 per cent had experienced misogyny online; and that 12 per cent did not feel safe, or even fairly safe, while discussing men’s football games in social settings. Women are actively being discouraged from following the sport, never mind participating in it. We must tackle that, first.

A survey that was conducted by The Press and Journal found that in 74 per cent of cases that were reported by female respondents no action was taken. First and foremost, in order to tackle abuse and misogyny there is a need for clear reporting mechanisms and appropriate punishments. Secondly, more women should be part of decision-making bodies in women’s football, so that policies reflect women and girls. Last, but not least, stereotypes must be dealt with. That starts with empowering women and girls at a young age and ensuring that women’s football is visible to girls as they grow up.

A main operator in my region has said that there is a stark difference between uptake of girls football in more affluent areas and uptake in more deprived areas, and said that fees, kits and boots can be barriers to girls joining the sport. They also stated that there is a need for more funding. I therefore welcome the £2 million from the United Kingdom Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which will open up opportunities for increased participation by underprivileged and underrepresented demographics in Scotland, including opportunities in girls football.

In conclusion, Presiding Officer, I say that sport is key to improving our physical and mental health, and that no one should be discouraged from it. Women should be able to pursue football as a hobby or professionally, without facing abuse, misogyny or sexism.

18:21  

I thank my SNP colleague, Joe FitzPatrick, for bringing this incredibly important debate to the chamber.

All my life I have been a follower of football. I support and have coached youth teams at my local team, Hibernian Football Club. I coached professionally at Hibs for 10 years and witnessed the growth of the girls and women’s game in that time. I have raised my son and daughter with the same enthusiasm for the game. My passion for the sport led me to completing my Union of European Football Associations coaching qualifications. My son, Scott, coaches professionally in England and my daughter Kirsty, like me, is a season ticket holder at Easter Road.

As a lifelong fan, I have witnessed and felt the exhilarating joy, as well as the overwhelming dismay, that football brings. I have lived through moments in footballing history that make me proud to be a football fan, but with that pride comes deep disappointment. That disappointment is because the sport that I and many other Scots have cherished for a lifetime has a darker side to its culture—one of racism, sectarianism, sexism and misogyny. Today’s debate is to discuss the latter two problems.

Sexism and misogyny are deep rooted in football. Indeed, since its creation, football has been seen and understood as being a lads game. It is in the laddish culture that surrounds football that casual sexism proliferates and misogynistic attitudes are not just tolerated, but are entrenched. How many of my male colleagues have been present during conversations in which women have being trying to have a well-reasoned debate on football only to be asked, “Do you even know the offside rule?” or to be met with the classic, “What do you know about football? You’re a woman?” I can almost guarantee that we have all been in that situation.

Sadly, the report by The Press and Journal that has been referred to merely confirms what we already knew—only, it is at a scale that we had, perhaps, underestimated.

Despite the great strides that have been made by the women’s game, many players run a gauntlet of sexist hate, sexualised comments, homophobia and body shaming simply for playing the game that they, and we, love. That is backed up by the Scottish Football Supporters Association and HerGameToo survey, which found that one in four female fans has experienced sexist or misogynistic comments while attending matches.

What is even more concerning to me, though, is the tolerance of sexism and misogyny that breeds violence. That was evidenced recently by Raith Rovers’ decision to sign David Goodwillie, despite his having been ruled to be a rapist. That decision was defended by the club as being one that was

“First and foremost ... football related”.

What message does that send out to the wider Scottish footballing community? Is it that you can rape a woman then return to elite football just a few years later?

To my mind, football clubs should be leading by example and showing fans and the wider sporting community that behaviours that enable and breed violence against women and girls are not acceptable. Women and girls of all ages in Scotland should have the right to feel confident and safe when sharing their opinions about football, online and in real life, without fear of sexist or misogynist abuse.

Finally, Scotland should strive to be a country in which women are encouraged to forge careers in the football industry without worry about discrimination, unequal opportunities and pay, and abuse in the workplace. Football, as a sport, can lead by example. I have already been in discussions with the minister about how our football clubs can take such an initiative forward and I look forward to continuing discussions. The time for action to be taken to stamp out the culture of misogyny and sexism in Scottish football is now.

18:25  

I am a football fan and I am also a woman. I am not just a casual football fan either; I am a season ticket holder for my local team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Club, and I have travelled internationally to follow the Scottish women’s team.

When I was a girl, however, I was not a football fan for a number of reasons. First, I was not welcome to play. In physical education, I was shuffled off to the red ash and handed a hockey stick instead. At lunchtime kickabouts, I was chased away by the boys who felt that the only way a girl should be involved in football is when they decided it would be an effective weapon for hitting the back of their head. That attitude is too often carried into adulthood.

Secondly, I thought, and I understand why many share this fear, that all football was like the type of football I saw on the news. I thought that all football fans were like the loud, violent men who raged drunk through the streets when certain derbies were on. I did not know there was a whole lot more to Scottish football. It was not until I had left school that I was able to discover the joy of things like pies and Bovril, Partick Thistle Football Club’s Kingsley rocking up on to the pitch, or watching Falkirk Football Club get relegated. Scottish football is rich and ridiculous and many people miss out on the delight of it because of the darker, often more visible, side putting them off.

It is very clear to me that a lot of people—a lot of men—use football as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour. They use a big game as an excuse to drink too much, cause a disturbance and sometimes harm each other and other people, because that is just what you do. It is not just what you do and it is a problem. The attitude that some take towards football in Scotland ruins it for other people and it puts folk—often women and girls—off taking an interest or becoming footballers themselves.

The phrase “culture of misogyny” in Joe Fitzpatrick’s motion is spot on. I struggle with discussing sexism, misogyny and related issues within one part of society because, as Joe FitzPatrick said, it is an issue everywhere. We talk about sexism in politics and in the workplace, and they are examples of a widespread problem that exists everywhere in society being magnified by problematic attitudes that are concentrated in a particular place. There is no denying that football in this country is subject to that magnification and those problematic attitudes.

It is therefore not surprising to me that women players have reported to The Courier and The Press and Journal investigation being subject to abuse, some of which was horrific, and all of which was unacceptable, simply for playing their game.

Earlier this year, I was heartened by the comments made by Inverness Caledonian Thistle when it stepped in to save Thistle Girls Football Club, a local team that would have become dormant without fast and positive action. The club stated its commitment to promoting and growing football for women and girls in the Highlands. It was a very proud moment for the club and it is hard to overstate the importance of such statements in solidifying the place of women in the game.

Since being elected last year, and despite the rain that day, one of my favourite engagements was attending the Scottish Women’s Football’s Highlands and Islands League cup final in Nairn. It was a cracking game between Clachnacuddin Women Football Club and the successful Sutherland Women’s Football Club. If there was ever a perfect display of why women’s football must be supported, it was in that game, because it is our game too.

However, we cannot ignore the fact only 8 per cent of the respondents to the investigation said that they felt that enough was being done by the football industry to reduce discriminatory behaviour. More has to be done. I am grateful to Joe FitzPatrick, to Sophie, Steven and to all others who are working to address the issue because it is our game, too and, right now, we need the support.

18:28  

I thank Joe FitzPatrick for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

I must start by reiterating the appalling figures found by The Press and Journal and The Courier showing that 70 per cent of female respondents to the survey had experienced discrimination in football, and that 60 per cent had experienced sexism. In both cases, that is quite a clear majority and it shows that discriminatory behaviour towards women in football remains prominent in modern day Scotland.

We cannot and must not stand by and accept that. We cannot let sexism and discrimination pass as acceptable because it is said in the context of football. We must call it out for what it is: discrimination against women in a male-dominated field.

The recent progress of women’s football is down to the players, their families, coaches, supporters and others who have worked so incredibly hard to obtain for women’s football the respect and attention that it deserves, and which other members have mentioned this evening. Indeed, next season, the Scottish Women’s Premier League 1 comes under the responsibilities of the Scottish Professional Football League, which is an important step for clubs and players alike.

The standard of women’s football in Scotland is high, with clubs such as Glasgow City Football Club attracting international attention in the latter stages of the Championship League, and Scotland’s national team, led by Shelley Kerr, qualifying for its first ever FIFA women’s world cup, and performing so impressively on the biggest stage of them all.

That shows the high level of performance, talent and dedication that has brought the women’s game in Scotland to where it is today. To ensure that the game continues to develop, we must do all that we can to reduce the number of people who are experiencing discrimination and sexism in the sport. We must all do better. However, that starts not just by increasing the representation of women on the field of play but also in the dugout, the stand, the boardroom and refereeing, as has been mentioned by other members. Those are all parts of the game in which women remain a very small minority.

Men absolutely do have a role to play as coaches and referees in women’s football, but we should seek to increase the number of women who hold such roles in years to come.

At grassroots level, we see clubs up and down the country giving women and girls the opportunity to play. Last summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Nithsdale Wanderers Football Club to see the excellent work that it is doing to promote the women’s game in the south of Scotland. I know that such work is being replicated by communities across Scotland.

As the motion states, 86 per cent of respondents think that increasing media coverage of women’s football could attract more people to the sport, but it is clubs like Nithsdale Wanderers and others where most will start their careers before going on to reach the heights of the elite divisions. For many, it need not be about reaching those high levels in the game. As with all sports, football brings with it significant physical and mental health benefits before all else and our first focus should be on improving the mental health of the population by encouraging girls and women to get involved in competitive yet fair team sport. Time and time again, we have been made aware of the positive impact that such involvement can have on a person.

Sexism has no place in any sport. It has no place in football. It is her game too. The findings of the investigation referenced in the motion are a stark reminder that, despite the progress that we have seen, we still have a long way to go. The public, football authorities, the media and the Parliament have a role to play in kicking sexism out of football once and for all.

On behalf of Scottish Labour, I thank the member for bringing this important debate to the chamber. We will always be on the side of women in this fight.

18:33  

I begin by congratulating Joe FitzPatrick on securing the debate. This is an important issue and I am glad that it is being raised in Parliament this evening.

In order to prepare properly for today, I thought that it would be beneficial to meet with the best women’s team in Scotland at the best club in Scotland, Ayr United Football Club.

I have to disagree with my colleague Siobhian Brown, because my daughter is vice-captain of Westdyke Ladies Football Club. I do not think that I could let that one slide, I am afraid.

Ms Brown, I am glad that that was an intervention and not a point of order.

Thank you. I would like to take this chance to thank Ayr United ladies team and assistant head coach, Clare Docherty, for allowing me to meet them to learn more about women in football and hear their stories. Needless to say, I do not think that I will be joining them to train soon.

When I read to the team the motion that is being debated tonight, it really resonated with them. Each and every woman and girl had faced sexism in football in some shape or form. One girl told me that when she was playing at an away game, a member of the men’s away team shouted at her, “Get back to the kitchen”—a disgraceful comment.

Sexism in women’s football is not always so obvious. For example, the women’s team at Ayr United always had to pay for and fundraise for their own kits. When Clare first started, she was handed a box of men’s hand-me-down kits and told to make do. Some of the shorts were three sizes too big. Currently, the kit that the women’s team is using is mismatched with an old sponsor. When speaking to the women, they highlighted to me that they felt that, when a man plays football, he signs his contract and just turns up to train and play. Everything gets handed to him. Meanwhile, the ladies have to fundraise and work for just about everything.

The good news is that, next season, the ladies team at Ayr United will wear the same kit as the men, which will present the team as a professional and serious force. Under the new owner and chairman, David Smith, the future is bright for the ladies team and Ayr United as a whole.

Last Saturday, for the first time ever, the women and men came together for a joint awards night that recognised the achievements of both groups. I congratulate Clare Docherty, Katie Patterson and Jodie Barbour on the awards that they won last Saturday.

Under David Smith, there have been much closer links between the players and the club, with bold and ambitious goals for growth and more support. The club is now offering to pay for a head coach for the ladies team. Previously this was a voluntary role that required no experience. Now Scottish Women’s Football has put in place guidelines that require all coaches to meet certain criteria.

During the Easter break, Ayr United academy ran a football camp to encourage more young people to take up the sport. There was an excellent turnout of girls. It is clear that they are the next generation who will lead women’s sport to a bright future. A player who has been at the club for 15 years told me that what is happening now is the most change that has ever happened and that it always felt like the boys were the priority and the ladies got whatever was left over. Put simply, all those positive developments would not have happened without Clare Docherty in charge. I hope that all clubs across Scotland will follow Ayr’s example.

There is still so much work to be done. People will often say that women are just not as good as men at football, or that they are not as entertaining to watch as the men. Well, of course, they would think that with all the structural barriers that are put in the way of girls and the lack of attention that women’s football receives. The amount of money in men’s football is not even comparable with that in women’s.

As I say, things are improving. People are tuning in to watch the Scotland women’s team play, and conversations have started about ticket sales and pay. Women do not want special treatment or recognition. They just want the same chances that the men get on a level playing field. Women’s and men’s football teams are an important source of local and national pride, so let us make Scotland a world leader in sporting equality and success.

18:37  

I thank my colleague Joe FitzPatrick for bringing this important matter to the chamber.

I did not intend to speak, Presiding Officer, so I thank you for being able to take me. As the convener for the cross-party group on the future of football in Scotland, I felt that it was important for me to speak, especially having heard the powerful speeches that have been made. I am conscious when convening the cross-party group that there is not always a woman’s or girl’s voice there. I work hard with the secretariat, particularly Paul McNeill of the SFA, to ensure that that happens. Aileen Campbell is a relatively new member of the group in her new role, and she is a welcome addition to the group and to Scottish women’s football generally.

The main point that Joe FitzPatrick made was that men need to challenge ourselves. We hear that a lot in the chamber and we need to do it. I am challenging myself. I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s and played football all day and every day. Any man who is still in the chamber for the debate or elsewhere who plays football and does not acknowledge what I am about to say would not be telling the truth—Presiding Officer, I know that you play football so perhaps you understand where I am coming from.

I say sorry to Emma Roddick because there were Emma Roddicks who wanted to play football with us and we said, “No, you can’t play because football is not for girls.” We were kids. It takes becoming an adult to realise that that was wrong, but we need to own up to that. We need to ensure that my two sons and my daughter, for example, do not find themselves in the same position.

We are changing and it is better. I am talking about what happened in the 1980s and 1990s and I am obviously showing my age by saying that. Emma Roddick is not in that age group with me, but she still had a similar experience.

Girls football is now thriving. I have taken both my boys to a football academy. It is not quite 50:50 yet but the numbers of girls attending the academies is growing. There are really good girls football teams across Coatbridge and Chryston. Coatbridge Rovers have a thriving girls community. My kids, their friends and people I talk to see no difference. We should be led by them.

I have a really good example. I have started taking my older boy, who is eight, to Scotland international games. We have been to a couple of men’s games and to Scotland versus Hungary, and if I had not been on holiday last week, we would have gone to Scotland versus Spain. We were at the Scotland versus Hungary game, which Scotland won 2-1 after a goal by Rachel Corsie with the last kick of the ball. My wee boy, who had, at only eight, been to two Scotland games before, said that that was the best of the lot. To pick up on Siobhian Brown’s point, perhaps those who say that women’s football is not as good as men’s should talk to him, because he will certainly put them right.

On a more serious note, the difficulties that women experience are still very obvious. Members might have heard about an example of that in Lanarkshire at the weekend, when there were scenes after the Motherwell-Hamilton women’s game. I am looking at my phone to get the newspaper headline, which says:

“‘The most disgusting scenes seen at a football match in 50 years’—Motherwell FC and Police Scotland investigating after spectators allegedly attacked by balaclava clad gang outside Fir Park after Motherwell women’s game on Saturday”.

That was the women’s first game at Fir park. The story makes me really angry. Shame on those men. The women have experienced enough to be able to get on to that field and to play, so for that to happen to them and to fans makes me angry. I spoke to Clare Adamson before deciding to speak in the debate and told her that I would mention that. It is appalling and highlights what has been said by other members about the difficulties and barriers faced by women and girls in the sport.

I know from my time on the cross-party group on the future of football in Scotland that the SFA is working to combat that. Scottish Para-Football recently won an award from UEFA for its grass-roots initiatives on disability. That shows that we can break down barriers in Scotland, so we can continue to do that when it comes to women and girls in sport and in football.

I call the minister to respond to the debate.

18:42  

I thank Joe FitzPatrick for his motion on this very important issue. The debate has covered a lot of ground and, after hearing the contributions, I am both greatly encouraged by the progress that we as a nation have made and under no illusion that a lot of work remains to be done.

I firmly believe that sport should be a safe space for people, whether they are participating or watching. I want to create and provide every opportunity for participation in sport and physical activity for everyone in Scotland, no matter their background. That is a critical part of improving the health of the nation. As we look to rebuild sport in Scotland following the impact of the pandemic, we must all support women and girls to return safely to sport.

The Scottish Government understands the importance of sport and physical activity for women and girls in Scotland and the positive impact that sport has on their physical, mental and social health and on their wellbeing. Working together is vital to the recovery of the sector as we come out of the pandemic and re-engage people from across society in sport and physical activity.

Football is a great example and can be a leader, as many here have said tonight, given its iconic position in Scottish society. The growth of women’s and girls football in Scotland is really encouraging. Significant steps forward have been taken to support that and to improve the visibility and reach of football.

The Scottish women’s national team now plays at Hampden and delivered a record crowd for a women’s qualifier in Scotland. Considerable efforts are being made to professionalise and commercialise the women’s elite game through the new governance model within the Scottish Professional Football League. That includes the aim to elevate female role models via the enhanced visibility of the game. Under the new Scottish women’s premier league model, there will be further enhanced visibility of women’s football through broadcast and online channels, making more matches available to more people.

On participation, in 2021, UEFA playmakers in partnership with Disney launched 30 centres across the country aimed at encouraging five to eight-year-old girls to play football. Six of those centres were in areas of high deprivation and were delivered free, providing the opportunity for 180 girls to play football in their local areas.

Female-only coach education courses are being delivered alongside the existing curriculum, and female-only referees courses have been introduced: 25 participants will attend the Scottish women’s national team match against Spain later this month as part of one of those first-ever courses.

Those are all very positive steps and are greatly welcomed. However, sexism and misogyny are underlying societal problems and the Scottish Government places huge importance on tackling them. Gender equality is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s vision for a fairer Scotland, where women and girls have, and are empowered to exercise, equal rights and opportunities, have equitable access to economic resources and decision making and live their lives free from all forms of violence, abuse and harassment.

As part of our extensive gender equality work, we established the gender equality task force in education and learning; published “A fairer Scotland for women: gender pay gap action plan”; are developing plans to incorporate the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women into Scots law; and are implementing the recommendations from the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls.

As part of our £100 million three-year commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, we have created a new delivering equally safe fund, which will direct £38 million to projects that focus on early intervention and prevention, as well as support services.

Violence against women is a fundamental violation of human rights, and the Scottish Government has taken robust action to tackle sexual offending by improving our laws, encouraging more victims of recent and historical cases to come forward and improving support. We also set up the misogyny working group, which was tasked with evaluating how the Scottish criminal justice system deals with misogyny, including looking at whether there are gaps in the law.

As the First Minister said in Parliament on international women’s day, too many women live

“in perennial fear of harassment, abuse, domestic and sexual violence”

and

“it is not women who need to change. What must change is a culture in which prejudice, sexism and misogyny still thrive.”

She continued:

“a society in which women do not feel safe is not one in which we can ever be truly equal.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2022; c 14-15.]

Does the minister agree that small changes can help, too? Tonight, I have heard members speaking about the Scottish football team and the Scottish women’s football team. We should call it the Scottish men’s football team and the Scottish women’s football team to make it more equal. Small changes like that are a beginning, although definitely not the end.

Certainly. I am all for team Scotland. The women’s team and the men’s team should absolutely be regarded equally. They give us great heart when they are playing well and devastate us when things go wrong. I am more than happy to make those small changes that build up to a bigger picture.

We need to challenge unacceptable male behaviour and better protect women from it. Scotland has led the way by creating a zero tolerance position on domestic abuse by creating the first domestic abuse offence that recognises coercive and controlling behaviours in law. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC’s working group on misogyny recently published its groundbreaking report. The Government welcomes that report’s recommendations in principle and we will respond formally after giving full consideration to the recommendations.

I mention those issues because it is clear that we are talking about a problem that is not only seen in football but widely witnessed across all sectors of society. I have regular conversations with all the sports bodies, as we have a responsibility to tackle those issues and take steps to make positive changes.

Football is just one of many sports, but—oh my goodness—it has a powerful presence, and it can lead the way for good and demonstrate the change that is badly needed.

I recently had a very useful meeting with representatives from Borussia Dortmund to learn about the excellent work that it has done to address antisemitism in the fan base and the wider city, and I will look to implement the learning from that in tackling equalities issues here in Scotland. I also met Kyniska Advocacy, which is a strong voice in advocating for sport across the UK to be safe and equal, and for all sportspeople to be celebrated, protected and respected. I share its ambition of making sport as safe as possible for everyone. I will be more than happy to take up Joe FitzPatrick’s invitation to meet to explore the potential for educational workshops to catalyse change.

I reiterate that, as the minister for sport, the issue of tackling sexism in sport is very close to my heart. I am absolutely determined that we will encourage more women and girls to participate in sport, and that they will be safe in doing so. I am hopeful. A generation after I experienced the view that girls cannot play football, Emma Roddick experienced that view. At the recent Cabinet meeting with children and young people, I was told by girls that that was one of the things that they were told they could not do. I would like to look forward to a future in which no girl is told that she cannot play football.

I thank all the members who have contributed to tonight’s discussion, and I again thank Joe FitzPatrick for bringing the debate to Parliament.

Meeting closed at 18:52.