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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 02 October 2019

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Nursery Funding (Deferred Entry to Primary School), ScotRail Franchise, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week


Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-18943, in the name of Emma Harper, on Scottish women and girls in sport week.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week, which takes place from 28 September to 4 October 2019; notes that the theme for 2019 is “Leaders Behind the Leaders”; understands that leaders in sport and physical activity help provide a legacy of confident, knowledgeable and experienced people, who throughout their life in sport and physical activity, will help build and strengthen the world-class sporting system for everyone in Scotland; believes that leaders in sport are crucial role models who motivate, promote and inspire others to participate in sport and physical activity in schools, local sports clubs and in the local community; recognises those who work behind the scenes in sport and physical activity and their role in supporting and inspiring female leaders in sport; welcomes the opportunity provided by Scottish Women and Girls in Sport Week to showcase and promote women and girls’ participation in sport and physical activity, and celebrates the role models who support and inspire female leaders in sport to be the best they can be.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to have this debate on Scottish women and girls in sport week. As deputy convener of the Health and Sport Committee, I start by thanking everyone from across the chamber who added their support to my motion. I am a wee bit disappointed, though, that nobody from the Conservative Party has supported it—although I gently remind them that there is still time.

I also thank the organisations and individuals who have provided briefings ahead of the debate. Briefings really help to guide us, as decision makers, by giving us insight into what is going well and what can be changed.

I greatly enjoyed sportscotland’s briefing. Its vision is of an active Scotland where everyone benefits from sport. Sportscotland recognises that more needs to be done to achieve gender equality in sport, but a lot of great work is being delivered throughout the sporting system to support progress.

The theme of this year’s week is “Leaders behind the leaders”. Behind every woman in sport is at least one leader. Those leaders in sport impart their wisdom, technical expertise, confidence and skills to other women in sport, who then go on to lead, shape and strengthen our world-class sporting system. I mean inspiring women leaders such as Judy Murray, who not only helped to shape her sons into world champions but is now spending much of her time helping to develop the next generation of female coaches, players and volunteers.

The Scottish Government’s women and girls in sport advisory board consists of accomplished and inspiring women leaders. It was established to provide independent advice on female participation in, and to raise female awareness of, all areas of sport and physical activity. The board ensures that we are driving participation by, and marketing and awareness of, Scottish women and girls in sport, and that every woman and girl in Scotland is given the best opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity.

The board is made up of a guid wheen o braw inspiring women. I will take a moment to give each of them a wee shout out. The chair, Amanda Jones, has been practising employment law for more than 20 years and has a particular interest in discrimination and sports law. Gemma Lumsdaine is an athlete who plays wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. She sits on both the Scottish Disability Sport and Basketball Scotland young people’s panels. Claire Nelson is the chief executive officer of Netball Scotland. Claire is on a mission to change the landscape of women’s sport, having recently launched the #ChangingTheGame campaign to challenge the many disparities that currently face women and girls in Scotland.

Vivienne McLaren is the chair of Scottish Women’s Football and is an award-winning marketing and communications strategist. Maggie Cunningham is the chair of MG Alba, or Gaelic Media Service. Maggie has worked in a number of senior positions in the BBC. Hala Ousta is the diversity and inclusion manager for the Scottish Football Association, and is an established campaigner for equality, diversity and inclusion in sport.

Emma Mahon is a young ambassador and also acts as an active schools vice-captain. Kirsty Ewen volunteers for Scottish Swimming as the domestic open-water events co-ordinator. Sheila Begbie MBE is the director of domestic rugby at the Scottish Rugby Union and has been key in supporting all aspects of the development of rugby—and look how well our women’s team are doing right now. Dee Bradbury is president of the Scottish Rugby Union and is Scottish rugby’s representative at Rugby Europe.

Yvonne Greeves is a national women in business manager and is responsible for designing and implementing the women in business strategy, both internally and externally across the United Kingdom. There is one more: Maureen McGonigle is the founder and chief executive officer of Scottish Women in Sport. Its vision is of a Scotland where females of all ages, abilities, ethnicities and walks of life are participating in sport or physical activity.

Those women are just some of the leaders behind the leaders in sport in Scotland, and we need to celebrate them all. We ken that leaders in sport are crucial role models, who motivate, promote and inspire others to participate in sport and physical activity.

In 2019 Scotland hosted six European and international sporting events, kicking off with the UEFA women’s under-19 European championship and culminating in the biggest event in women’s golf—the 2019 Solheim cup.

I must also mention sport in my South Scotland region. This year, the International Ice Hockey Federation women’s ice hockey world championships took place in Dumfries, at the outstanding Dumfries ice bowl. I attended a few of the matches, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric.

The Scottish women’s volleyball championships and the Scottish club swimming tournaments were both held at the Citadel leisure centre in Ayr. The SkiffieWorlds world championship coastal rowing event was held at Stranraer and Loch Ryan in July, with a record entry of 693 crews from 57 clubs worldwide, including women’s teams and other teams from as far away as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Tasmania. The whole week was a fantastic way to promote water sports. Loch Ryan can be a complete launch pad for waters sports in the future.

We know that women and girls are more likely to play sport if there is more coverage of female athletes in the media. Our women and girls in sport advisory board found that 95 per cent of media coverage is dedicated to men’s sport, and that increased levels of coverage for women’s sport have a positive impact on women’s physical activity. I fully support the board’s call for a media summit to review existing coverage of female sport, and I look forward to hearing tonight from the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing and other members about what must be done to further encourage women into sport—not just during Scottish women and girls in sport week, but in the future.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Emma Harper for bringing the debate to the chamber. I am always very happy to talk about sport, and I assure her that I have signed her motion.

I have a vested interest in the debate, as I have three daughters. I coached the eldest two in sport to international level, and now have the pleasure of coaching my youngest, as well. She has reached the heady heights of being Lanarkshire under-13 javelin bronze medallist, and I am having great fun coaching her. In passing, I reiterate the importance of Maureen McGonigle’s work on furthering women’s sport.

I have mentioned Maricica Puica in the chamber before. Why is her name important? She won the 3,000m in the 1984 Olympic games—the famous race in which Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their infamous clash. The reason why I mention the 3,000m is that it was, at that time, the longest race that women could run on the track at an Olympic games.

Spinning forward to 1988, I had the real pleasure of sitting in the stadium to watch Liz McColgan take a silver medal in the 10,000m. I was in the stadium in 1991 too, when she ran what is probably one of the greatest distance races I have ever seen, when she demolished a world-class field in 90°C heat at the world championships. There is now a full complement of women’s races matching the races of the men at the Olympics, which shows that women’s sport has come a long way.

I should also mention how women’s rugby and women’s football have come on, along with women’s cricket and women’s golf. They are starting to make inroads in terms of getting more media coverage, although there is a lot more to be done in that respect. A lot has happened even in my lifetime.

I want to talk about a controversial issue for the development of women’s sport that is fast coming down the track, if members will pardon the pun. It is the difficult and complex issue of transsexual athletes—specifically, biological males who self-identify as females competing against biological females. The discussion about sex versus gender is currently being played out in a court in the US of A, in a case whose outcome will have profound consequences for women’s sport.

What worries me most is that sportswomen such as Dame Kelly Holmes, Sharron Davies and Paula Radcliffe have been attacked and vilified for raising that issue. To be clear, what we are talking about here is an attack on women for speaking up on women’s rights issues.

Since 2017, in collegiate sport, two biological males have won 15 women’s track championship titles against biologically female track athletes—titles that were previously held by females. Women will really struggle to match their performances. There is now a biological male competing as a female power lifter who, after undergoing 11 months of hormone therapy, has set multiple world records in a women’s category.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

Does Brian Whittle acknowledge that sports governing bodies are well placed to adjudicate when it comes to such matters, that work is being undertaken on the issue, that everyone has a right to take part in sport, and that we all hope that it is an enjoyable and welcoming experience?

Brian Whittle

I agree with a lot of what Alison Johnstone says, and I will come on to that. I disagree, however, that governing bodies are “well placed” to deal with the issues. They have not dealt with them particularly well. I am not offering an opinion; I am telling members what is happening in world sport. I have been talking about individual sports, but the biggest issue is in respect of contact sports, in which a real danger is already evident.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Will you come to a close, please?

Brian Whittle

I hope that the athletes will be treated with more compassion and respect than people such as Caster Semenya and other intersex athletes. Equality of access and opportunity, irrespective of background and personal circumstances, should be the goal. Let us make sure that the subject is tackled properly. More important, let us treat everybody with the compassion and respect that they deserve.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I gently remind members that they should always stick with relevance to the motion. I know that it is sometimes a difficult line to walk, but please always bear that in mind, particularly in members’ business debates.


Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

Like Brian Whittle, I have a vested interest in the debate. I do not have a daughter, but I have an 11-year-old boy. It is equally important that he be exposed to all the great things that women achieve in sport. Although, at 11, he is not yet known for his feminism, it is encouraging that without batting an eye he happily enjoys going to watch women’s football, rugby and other sports.

I express my appreciation to my colleague Emma Harper for securing the debate during Scottish women and girls in sport week, because it provides me with the perfect opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of some of the sportswomen who hail from my constituency in West Lothian.

I have no doubt that many members are well aware of the achievements of the inspirational Shelley Kerr MBE, who is the manager of Scotland’s women’s football team. Like me, Shelley was a pupil of West Calder high school, but when I was skipping physical education class because I did not want to wear shorts, Shelley was starting her football career at a time when it was difficult to find a junior team for girls.

Shelley Kerr has a long list of achievements, but I want to highlight the fact that she returned to football as a mother, after a break of nine years, and fought hard to win back her place in the Scotland team. She holds the Scottish record for being the oldest player in the national team, having played international football for Scotland at the grand old age of 39. That, in addition to her sporting prowess, speaks volumes about the role model that she is to women and girls of all ages.

Another local legend is Elise Christie, who was originally a figure skater before specialising in short-track speed skating in her teens. She is a 10 times European gold medallist and was a world champion in Rotterdam in 2017. Elise has been very open about her mental health issues, and she uses her social media platforms to good effect in helping to destigmatise mental ill health. The relationship between good physical health and good mental health is well known.

I cannot fail to mention 14-year-old Ellie Fergusson, who won the TV show competition “The Greatest Dancer”. Ellie gave half her winnings to the Edinburgh Dance Academy, which helped her to achieve her dream. She is a special young woman.

I could mention so many more young West Lothian women, but that is not possible in the time that I have available. However, I could not participate in the debate without mentioning a young woman who instils a lot of pride in West Lothian—Christina McSherry from Stoneyburn. Christina is a special Olympian and British power lifting champion, who now plays bowls. I have a special attachment to the weightlifters, because in the 1980s and 1990s my dad was part of a successful weightlifting club in Stoneyburn. I was always proud that that working class men’s club supported special Olympians and that, even at that time, had the odd woman training alongside the men.

Although the West Lothian women that I have mentioned all participate in different sports and physical activities, the thing that they have in common is that they started young. Some of them changed sports and some had a career break and returned to their sporting passion. That demonstrates the importance of the right opportunities for physical activity for young people within and outwith schools, because the benefits are lifelong.

The facts speak for themselves; there is more to be done to increase the participation of women and girls in sport. Gender equality is important in all walks of life. The good thing is that we know what the issues are, and we are all determined to address them.


Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on Scottish women and girls in sport week. I thank Emma Harper for bringing the motion to the chamber.

Sport brings so much benefit and enjoyment to all of us. It is nice for me, as Scottish Labour spokesperson for health and sport, to have the opportunity to celebrate the amazing achievements of women and girls who participate in sport in Scotland. As we have already heard, it has been another phenomenal year for women in sport. With Scotland’s women taking part in high-profile events such as the women’s football world cup, we have a lot to be proud of.

We all know the benefits that keeping active brings, not just to physical health but to mental health. It often plays a huge role in reducing stress and anxiety. Therefore, I am pleased that we can take the opportunity to celebrate women and girls in sport this week.

We must recognise individual achievements but also recognise where there are still barriers to women’s full participation and to address what can be done to remove those barriers. Because my colleague Brian Whittle raised the issue, I say gently to the chamber that trans women are women, and non-binary people exist. Perhaps there is an on-going debate on wider issues but, for tonight, when we talk about the achievements of women and girls in sport, I want everyone to feel included and valued.

When I read the “Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey” report from last year, I was struck by the fact that girls’ participation in sport tends to drop off dramatically around the age of 13. I have a daughter of that age. Between the ages of seven and 11, more than 40 per cent of girls said that they played sport or exercised every day but, between the ages of 12 and 17, that figure drops to just 21 per cent. Despite the progress that we have made towards women and men’s equality, that is a telling statistic and we need to get better at addressing it. Sport is or should be for everyone at every age. More girls and young women need encouragement to keep up with the sports that they have taken part in at primary and secondary school.

Despite the progress, the report from the Scottish women and girls in sport advisory board this week was also disappointing to read. It is sad that women are still so underrepresented in sports media coverage. It is even more troubling that the content from online news outlets on women’s sporting achievements could be interpreted as oversexualised. It is not rocket science that a major factor in participation in anything, whether it be sport or politics, is the lack or otherwise of role models. If young girls do not see themselves reflected in national media coverage of sports, it is no wonder that we see that all-too-familiar cliff-edge drop-off in participation as they reach their teenage years.

Talking of barriers to women in sport, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to the phenomenal on the ball campaign, which has become such an important mechanism for ensuring that female fans of football are heard. I give a shout out to Erin, Orlaith and Mikaela, who should be proud of what they have achieved. More than 100 clubs have now pledged to become, or already are, period positive and provide free period products at their football grounds. That is certainly something to celebrate.

I have talked about younger women and girls, but I will briefly shout out to Age Scotland. It is promoting sport to tackle loneliness and isolation and, through its work with Netball Scotland, it has established more than 30 walking netball groups across Scotland. There are massive health benefits to come from that.

I look forward to the Scottish Government organising the summit that has been recommended by the advisory board in its report this week, and I will continue to work with all MSPs across the chamber to ensure that we are doing all we can to remove barriers to women in sport.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

First, I apologise for having to leave after my speech. I am pleased to speak in the debate and thank my colleague Emma Harper for bringing it to the chamber. It is timely because, aside from this being Scottish women and girls in sport week, we are seeing a sea change in attitudes towards women and girls participating in sport.

As we have heard, the Solheim cup, women’s football and the netball world cup have dominated the sports headlines this year and they are gathering new fans by the million. I think that levelling the playing field for women and girls begins in school, so I am heartened to learn that my granddaughters are being encouraged to take part in any sport they fancy—nothing is off limits. These are changed days from when I was at school, when sport was almost optional for girls. I played netball, which I loved, but that was the extent of it.

Now, a new report says that women and girls will be more likely to take up a sport or exercise if there is increased reporting of top athletes and events in the media. Promoting positive role models who can inspire girls is a key motivator, in the same way as boys have been inspired by footballers since time immemorial. In Scotland, girls have plenty of models to choose from including the very impressive list that Emma Harper read out. They also have Laura Muir, Eve Muirhead, Julie Fleeting and Carly Booth, and that is just a fraction of the top sporting women in Scotland.

Age Scotland tells us of the benefits of exercise for more mature people, which include lower blood pressure and heart rate, and weight loss, not to mention the huge benefits to mental health. I discovered the joys of walking during summer recess, discovering our fantastic canal pathways, and I now know how true the expression “walking your way to better health” is.

An expert group has recommended in its report that there should be a summit on increasing media coverage of women in sport in order to encourage girls to be more active. The group, which is made up of leaders from sport, business and media, has recommended that a Scottish sport media summit should be set up to review and challenge the nature and extent of existing media coverage in Scotland, as Emma Harper outlined. Having worked in newspapers in a previous life, and knowing how much male-dominated sport dominates the media, I think that that would be a very welcome move.

The report also highlights the need for greater gender balance in leadership and management roles across Scotland. Active schools, which is a sportscotland initiative in conjunction with local authorities, provides young people with quality opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity before school, at lunch time and after school. Its independent research found that 92 per cent of girls and young women at school say that taking part in sport and physical activity makes them feel happy or very happy. That figure is just as high as the figure for male respondents. That positivity towards sport and physical activity is reflected in the latest active schools female participation figures for 2018-19, which show a massive rise in participation.

The future is bright for women and girls in sport. We know that we can excel in any sport and I look forward to watching us take on the world competitively, sweeping the medals board and reaping the benefits of focusing on sport-based leisure.


Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

I thank Emma Harper for allowing us to celebrate the participation of women and girls in sport and to insist that we see more of them and learn more about their many achievements. We have discussed the topic in the chamber several times, but it seems that, in too many cases, the barriers that we have previously addressed remain. It is important that we encourage everyone to take part in sport, but we know for a fact that there is still a divide: we know that, in many sports, women and girls are less likely to be involved and their participation is not at the same level as that of their male counterparts.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule. I spent Saturday morning in Glasgow at the annual general meeting of Scottish Athletics, at which it was noted that participation levels for girls in some age groups are higher than those for boys. Athletics has always been a sport that has been especially well balanced in that regard—we see as many women athletes taking part as we do men—which is one of its great strengths.

When the Health and Sport Committee undertook an inquiry into barriers to physical activity and sport, it met many women and communities from across Scotland and heard their concerns. Those were often about cost, but time was also a huge issue. For someone who is juggling childcare and work, sometimes it is just too much to get out and do a class at the end of the day. Therefore there is something to be said for building in opportunities during the day, such as lunchtime sports activities. I know that small steps in that regard are being taken in this building, and some of us do things informally, but such an approach could be made more formal and built into the way we do things. For example, in Sweden the number of people who are members of sports clubs is phenomenal. We need to look at that, because such community cohesion is well worth investing in.

I want to mention the success of the jogscotland programme in encouraging women and young girls to participate in sport. Its membership is 81 per cent female, and a huge proportion of those members are aged 40-plus, which is notable. That tells us that when affordable and accessible opportunities are available in our communities, they are warmly welcomed. It is also no surprise that those members have also experienced the positive impacts on mental health that being physically active can bring.

I, too, cannot thank Maureen McGonigle of Scottish Women in Sport enough. It is heartening that, this year, we have seen coverage of the world cup in women’s football being boosted exponentially, and the Solheim cup has done the same for golf. Other members have made the point that the coverage of women’s sport and physical activity is not good: actually, I think that it is a national disgrace. Most mornings, if I come to the Parliament on the bus—that is, when I am not on my bike—I look through the papers. As I have previously said in the chamber, I make a point of going to the back pages to see whether I can find coverage of a woman doing sport. On some days, I cannot find one—or, if I can, she is in there because she is someone’s other half. We must ask who is writing for those papers and who is commissioning such work. Why are editors not insisting on representing all people who take part in Scotland? We have superstars such as Laura Muir, but we still seem to have patchy regard for the achievements of women in sport. It is time that we started to debate that more seriously.

I realise that I am running out of time, so I will close by thanking everyone who is making strides in that regard. The work that Shelley Kerr has done is notable, and Judy Murray has recently visited the Parliament. We need more of that, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Due to my having been quite lax with speakers’ times, and because we still have two speakers to go in the open debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Emma Harper]

Motion agreed to.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Liz Smith, to be followed by Kenneth Gibson. [Interruption.]

The clerk has pointed out to me that I have missed out Willie Coffey. How could I have done that? I am terribly sorry. We still have three speakers to go. I call Willie Coffey, to be followed by Liz Smith.


Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I congratulate my colleague Emma Harper on bringing the debate to the chamber.

We have some incredible female sporting legends to be proud of in my part of Ayrshire—Rhona Martin in curling and Rose Reilly in football to name but two. In our modern era, we now have award-winning and inspiring acro gymnastic coaches Gemma Thomson and Tracy Wilson, and we have Destany Robertson, who is a current Scottish and British boxing champion.

However, I want to share a few words about a local hero and a personal friend of mine—Rose Reilly from Stewarton. Rose featured in a recent documentary about her life, which illustrated the many obstacles that she had to overcome to achieve her stunning success as a footballer. She was kicking a ball from a very early age and she frequently got into trouble at primary school for playing football with the boys.

While Rose was at St Joseph’s academy, her coach and mentor John Roy recognised her talent and coaxed her to cut her hair very short so that she could sneak into the team as “Ross Reilly”. She was so good that Celtic tried to sign her before realising that she was a lassie. For many years, the SFA banned women from playing football. From 1921, women were banned from playing the beautiful game. That ban was made formal in 1949 and it lasted till 1974, when the SFA was forced to lift it. That was not exactly an age of enlightenment for our national body.

At school, Rose trained with the boys and played in unofficial and unrecognised women’s football matches and competitions. When she was 17, she scored for Scotland in a match with England, but she had to wait a ridiculous 47 years to get her cap from the SFA. She received it from the First Minister only this year, along with some of the other women from that time—Margaret McAulay, Linda Kidd, Jean Stewart and Jane Legget.

Soon after that match, Rose’s life changed forever. She and her friend Edna Neillis got the chance of a football trial in France with Stade de Reims, then she went on to a glittering career with AC Milan. It is the story of one of Scotland’s greatest-ever footballers. She played 10 games for Scotland despite being banned by the SFA for daring to challenge its medieval leadership. She went on to play 24 times for Italy, but she always made sure that she had a saltire under her Italian top, and she won the unofficial world cup with Italy in 1984 in front of 90,000 fans. She won eight league titles, four cups and the golden boot for the most goals in one season. She is a Scotland legend indeed, and she is recognised in our hall of fame at Hampden.

Rose Reilly had to fight for her right to play football, and that is why she is such a role model and an inspiration, not just to female footballers but to all athletes. Her role as a trailblazer is now widely recognised. She also gives back to the footballing community as an ambassador for Walking Football Scotland, and she will soon be honoured—rightly—in her home town of Stewarton.

In the modern era, our talented athletes support programme in East Ayrshire has gone from strength to strength since its introduction in 2009, nurturing and supporting athletes to achieve their dreams, with some 47 per cent of them being women. The East Ayrshire Sports Council has played its part, too, funding and supporting young athletes across East Ayrshire and spurring them on to a bright future.

For women such as Rose Reilly and the many talented female athletes then, participation and success in sport was a battle simply because they were women. That should not have been the case. The wrongs of a short-sighted and gender-biased football association were ultimately overcome by Rose—at a considerable cost to her and her family—but she has always remained patriotic and is the first to shout out for Scotland.

I again congratulate Emma Harper on bringing the subject to the Parliament’s attention. I look forward to hearing other members’ speeches and the response from the minister.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am back on track. I call Liz Smith, to be followed by Kenneth Gibson.


Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I warmly congratulate Emma Harper on lodging her motion. I offer my contribution to the debate as somebody who has—dare I say it?—40 years of experience in coaching girls’ sport, but also as co-convener with Alison Johnstone of the cross-party group on sport. We owe a lot to our predecessor convener, Margo MacDonald, who did a lot to promote women in sport. The subject is perhaps something that the cross-party group can return to, so we will have a conversation about what else we can do.

Scottish women and girls in sport week is an excellent opportunity to highlight not just the importance of sport, physical activity and personal fitness, but the life skills that sport—especially competitive sport—teaches us. Good-quality and regular participation in sport are, in my view, necessary for a strong, healthy and successful society, and everybody should have the right and the opportunity to take part, compete and pursue their sporting ambitions, whatever they might be.

Sport offers a unique experience because the rules that govern it are usually those that adopt the principle of a level playing field. People can practise and decide their own self-determination based on their ability, will and experience. That can be anything from individual self-improvement, to feats of accomplishment that come with teamwork or elite performance.

We must remember that some individuals, including many girls, sometimes feel that they can accomplish more together than they can apart. That is where we have an issue to deal with. Our country has borne witness to the invention and growth of many great sports, from golf to shinty, football and rugby, but not always on an equal basis. Monica Lennon raised an important point about the work that we still need to do to ensure that such equality is provided.

It was interesting to read an article in The Scotsman yesterday about media coverage, or the lack of it in some cases, of women’s sport. Alison Johnstone referred to that issue in her speech and it is a real worry. However, I think that it is newspaper coverage more than radio and television coverage that is falling short. There has been a marked improvement in what is on television, for example the women’s football world cup.

I thought that the Solheim cup was extremely well presented, and not just because it was on in Gleneagles, which is in my constituency. I attended the Solheim cup on two days and I thought that the coverage, as well as the golf, was excellent. We can perhaps take that forward in the future, because it matters from the perspective of the people who are competing, and it also matters because it gives the wider world an impression of what the media are saying about women in sport. We need more of that coverage and perhaps we could debate the subject a bit more in Parliament.

Brian Whittle was right to raise some of the difficult issues—whether he was expressing an opinion or not is not the important point. There are difficult issues in sport for women, as well as for men. The issues are very sensitive, but we have to ensure that we are taking on board the concerns of people who are involved in that process.

Many members have spoken about some of our female sporting heroes, and rightly so. I will add a little bit, from personal interest, about women’s cricket, which I have been involved with for 40 years. Women’s cricket has come a very long way, not only because of the extraordinary efforts that Cricket Scotland has put in to the extra coaching that it has provided. Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that Scotland would be hosting the world cup qualifiers, which I had the pleasure of attending at Forfarshire Cricket Club at the end of last month. Women cricketers have come a long way, particularly as they had to fight barriers because cricket was seen very much as a gentlemen’s sport, rightly or wrongly. Women’s cricket has come a long way, and I think that it deserves great credit.

I thank all the people across Scotland who get involved in women’s sport, whether they are coaches, administrators or supporters. We need them, and we need them badly, because women’s sport will not function without the efforts that they put in.


Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I congratulate my colleague Emma Harper on securing today’s debate to mark Scottish women and girls in sport week.

In June of this year, a report on “Sports participation in Scotland: trends and prospects”, recorded that, over a five-year period between 2012 and 2017, the percentage of men meeting the physical activity for health guidelines was 71 per cent, compared with 60 per cent of women. The report clearly illustrates that a gender gap in sports participation exists in Scotland, which starts at a young age. Between the ages of eight and 10, more girls participate in sport than boys, with rates of 79 and 76 per cent respectively, but after the age of 10 and into the teenage years female participation drops significantly. Accordingly, by the age of 13 to 15, fewer girls participate in sport than boys.

The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation states that barriers exist that prevent women and girls from participating in sports and physical activity, including practical barriers. The report states:

“Women tend to have less leisure time than men as they take on the greater burden of responsibility for housework, childcare and care of elderly ... relatives.”

Female participation is also inhibited by a lack of access to facilities, because “sports halls prioritise male” participation. The foundation also records that women and girls have a higher rate of body image dissatisfaction and suffer from a relative lack of self-confidence in relation to sports. As a result, many rate their performance or ability negatively.

Women also have fewer female sporting role models, although I have been delighted to hear colleagues from across the chamber name many excellent women in sport whom young women and girls can emulate.

Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

Mr Gibson mentioned role models, which gives me the opportunity to refer to Chelsea Raymond, who is at the University of Stirling in my constituency and who recently got an award from the SFA for girls and women’s football. She takes the university teams and teams of girls in the Stirling area. That kind of role model, as well as those who we see on our TV screens, is important for young women and girls.

Kenneth Gibson

I am particularly pleased to hear about that, given the connection to my alma mater, the University of Stirling.

Scottish women and girls in sport week encourages more women into sport and physical activity, raises awareness of those who regularly take part at all levels and addresses the barriers that lead to lower activity rates among women. This week, the Scottish women and girls in sport advisory board published its report “Levelling the Playing Field—2019 Report and Recommendations”, which focuses on this year’s theme of leaders behind the leaders. The theme is designed to develop

“a legacy of confident, knowledgeable and experienced people, who throughout their life in sport and physical activity, will help build and strengthen the world-class sporting system for everyone in Scotland.”

The report also notes the importance of female role models who

“motivate, promote and inspire others to participate in sports and physical activity in schools, local sports clubs and in the local community.”

Scotland has a proud story of female sports participation. We heard from Willie Coffey about Rose Reilly. Participation of women in football can be traced to 21 August 1628, when the Rev John Lindsay, the minister for Carstairs, noted in the local kirk records of Lanark presbytery registers that men and women had engaged in “insolent behaviour” by playing football on the sabbath. The first women’s international football match took place between Scotland and England at Easter Road, Edinburgh, on 7 May 1881, with around 1,000 spectators. The Glasgow Herald described the Scottish team as looking

“smart in blue jerseys, white knickerbockers, red belts and high heeled boots”.

The match concluded with a well-deserved 3-0 victory for Scotland.

During the first world war, as women replaced men in munitions factories, women began playing football in their breaks to improve their general fitness for work in heavy manual labour. From that, several munitionette teams competed against each other across Scotland. The first such match was in August 1917 at Celtic park in Glasgow. Unfortunately, despite the rapid growth and success of women’s football, the Football Association withdrew all support from it in 1921 and the Scottish Football Association formally banned women from competing in 1949. It was not until 1974 that the SFA lifted the ban and at last formally recognised female participation.

Those of us who watched the women’s world cup in France were impressed by our team even though, as so often happens with the men, elimination was snatched from the jaws of qualification. However, despite recent progress, much more can be done, and Scottish women and girls in sport week provides the essential platform for that aspiration.


The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

I, too, thank Emma Harper for securing the debate, and I thank members from across the chamber for their contributions. As Alison Johnstone mentioned, the Health and Sport Committee did some work in the area a number of years ago, so the Parliament has been working on the issue for some time and there has been general consensus around it. It is worth noting that you, Presiding Officer, chaired the young women lead committee, which looked at the leadership programme for young women and covered themes such as socioeconomic status, how sport and physical activity are provided in schools, societal pressures and external influences. It is important to point out that the Parliament has been working on the area for some time.

When I was appointed Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, I said that I would do everything that I could to continue to improve opportunities for women and girls in sport and physical activity in Scotland. I take that commitment seriously, and it is what the Government has tried to do. We have taken a range of measures to challenge gender stereotypes, to help women’s voices to be heard and to increase opportunities.

Willie Coffey reminded us just how far we have come. Earlier this year, I was pleased to be at Hampden to witness some of the women who Mr Coffey talked about receiving their caps, which they should have received many years ago. That shows just how far we have come.

As we celebrate Scottish women and girls in sport week, we acknowledge the continued gender gap in the participation rates for sport and physical activity. The stubbornness of the gap shows that we need to find new ways to retain women and girls in sport and to support more inactive women and girls to become more physically active.

With that in mind, during last year’s women and girls in sport week, I announced £300,000 funding to support the development of new projects and partnerships. I am pleased to report to Parliament that nine sports governing bodies have successfully used the funding to lead partnership projects. Whether in boxing, basketball, squash or triathlon, I am hopeful that those projects will not only get more women and girls active for the period of the projects but provide them with learning that can be applied in and beyond those sports in order to increase female participation and close the sports gender gap.

As part of women and girls in sport week, ministers go on visits to see women and girls involved in sports across the country. This year, I think that 14 ministers are involved. Last night, I was very pleased to visit East Kilbride Gymnastics Club, where I saw fantastic enthusiasm from the leadership who are coaching and training the girls and from the participants. The club is clearly determined to look at how it can tackle the drop-off rate in the early teens that Monica Lennon and others mentioned. It looks as though the club is going some way to tackle that, so I know that there is good practice from which we can learn.

If anyone gets a chance to visit the East Kilbride Gymnastics Club, they will see real talent. Some of its members are going to Mexico later this year. Watch out for their amazing gymnastics display.

We know that much more needs to be done to eradicate the inequalities that many women and girls still face in participating in sport and physical activity. Kenneth Gibson in particular made that point. The Government took the decision to establish the Scottish women and girls in sport advisory board. I thank Emma Harper for outlining the breadth and strength of leadership on the board. Earlier this week, I was delighted to receive the board’s report, “Levelling the Playing Field 2019 Report and Recommendations”. That bold report with huge ambition is the result of a lot of hard work. I warmly welcome it and all its recommendations to Government, which are bold and challenging—exactly what I hoped they would be.

When I went to my first meeting of the advisory board, we talked about the board members being experts in their fields and about the importance of not simply being content to tinker around the edges but being prepared to be bold, to challenge and to really push the envelope. I am delighted that the board has done that in its first report. The Government will take some time to consider all the recommendations carefully and will publish a full and considered response in due course. However, I am sure that members expect me to give them my initial thoughts on the key recommendations tonight.

One thing that I found very encouraging is that all the recommendations align not only with the board’s four key focus areas—intervention, prevention, reconnection and continuation—but, more impressively, with the work of the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls. The recommendations complement that work and will help us advance and accelerate it, so that we have a more gender-equal Scottish society.

The report also builds on the momentum from a year in which we saw high-profile sporting events such as those mentioned by Rona Mackay—the FIFA women’s world cup, the Solheim cup and the Vitality netball world cup—being watched, enjoyed and experienced by huge audiences.

The increased visibility has not only shone a light on the inspirational role models as outlined by Kenneth Gibson; we have also seen participation across a number of those sports spiking. Angela Constance made a very strong point about how such visibility can have wider impacts in shaping perceptions across society, and not just in relation to girls.

There is much to be proud of in the report, which contains a set of strong recommendations aimed at growing and improving participation and audiences. One of the major proposals is to create and deliver a Scottish sport media summit, and I am pleased to hear that there is cross-party support for that.

I look forward to working with gender equal media Scotland to help us to achieve that. In working with the media, I want to see real commitment to improve gender balance and increase the visibility of women’s sport, athletes and social participants through improved content and increased coverage across all media platforms.

Alison Johnstone should not have to search for female athletes in a newspaper or on TV; they should receive equal coverage. Liz Smith made a very strong point about why it is not only in society’s interest but in the media’s interest to ensure that that is the case. She was right that the Solheim cup was the perfect stage for Scotland, but it was also good golf and there was good coverage of it. My goodness, what a thrilling end it was! It was obviously fantastic that we won—that always helps. However, even if we had lost by that one hole, it would still have been thrilling. Like Liz Smith, I managed to spend some time at the competition and heard the enthusiasm of the audience, which got bigger and bigger as the week went on.

I attended the start of the junior Solheim cup earlier in the week when crowds were better than expected, and they just continued to get better as the week went on, and then there was that thrilling end. The idea that women’s sport is something that people would not want to watch has been totally thrown out. The media—whether TV, written media or radio—need to realise that it is in their interests to give women’s sport the coverage that it deserves.

In accepting the board’s recommendations, we will work towards a levelling of the playing field whereby everyone is treated fairly and can achieve their full potential.

I take this opportunity to thank the advisory board once again for its work and input and for the boldness of its report and recommendations.

Members have my personal commitment to take those recommendations forward in a positive spirit, and to work together to ensure that we deliver the change that we want to see, making sure that, ultimately, they improve the lives of women and girls across Scotland, while helping us to create a truly equal society.

Meeting closed at 18:02.