What a difference a decade makes. Despite a greater level of professionalism in the late 20th century, women’s sport remained on the peripheral of mainstream media even up until 10 years ago.
Now, women’s sport is thriving thanks to shifts to more professionalism and big money television deals, providing exposure for female athletes and enabling the next generation to dream of the very same.
Larger audience figures among the world’s biggest sports such as football, cricket, tennis and basketball, particularly in the past five years, have been driven by greater awareness of women’s sport. The rise of social media and investment in making matches more accessible to the wider public has driven the growth of women’s sport, with fans responding at large.
In fact, according to a study by research agency Nielsen, 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sports. Moreover, 40% would watch more women’s sport if it was available online, and of those, 74% would be willing to pay 10 pounds per month for access.
And now, supremely talented athletes can show off their skills in front of worldwide audiences. The Football FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019, held in France, was the 8th World Cup in the women’s game.
And, it was one that catapulted the women’s game to even greater heights.
The Netherlands and eventual champions United States played out the most watched match in women’s World Cup history. The match had an average audience of 82 million, up by 56% on the 2015 edition, according to FIFA data.
The 2020 ICC Women’s Cricket T20 World Cup Final, held on International Women’s Day, saw 86,174 fans flood the gates of the Melbourne Cricket Ground to witness the great Australia team beat India. Former Australia cricket captain Alex Bracewell said that “I think it sets the standard or the bar as high as possible for the next sporting event – men or women.”
Alyssa Healy, who won the player of the match award, couldn’t believe how quickly women’s sport has progressed in the past five or so years.
“I never thought that we would get an opportunity like this in my whole career … I thought maybe in 20 years’ time.”
And Australia won without arguably their greatest ever women’s cricketer, Ellyse Perry, who had just suffered a serious hamstring injury. In fact, Perry also represented Australia in football, scoring a wonder goal against Sweden at the 2011 FIFA World Cup. After choosing cricket, Perry is constantly mentioned as great, even among male cricketers, with CricBlog, one of the world’s fastest-growing cricket blogs, ranking Perry among the top five cricketers (male or female) in the past five years.
Couple this with Serena Williams, regarded by some as the greatest tennis player of all time. Williams is top of the throne – men or women – when it comes to the most grand slam titles (23), across a decorated professional career that began at the age of just 14.
“I think that she is very inspirational to other inspiring athletes that are women. It gives them the power and belief in themselves to strive to be their best,” wrote student Isabella M in her 11th grade entry in the ‘20 Will McDonough Writing Contest.
“Serena has influenced athletics all over the world. She has won 23 major singles titles, more than any other woman or man during the open era. She was formerly named world number 1 from The Women’s Tennis Association.
“Williams has been extremely successful since the first time she picked up a tennis racket. Not only is she an athlete, but she is a mother, a wife, a friend, and a role model to everyone. She continuously inspires everyone around the world, whether it’s in sports, the community, or the culture. She is a role model to kids and adults, and has inspired many people to start playing tennis.”
And this is the case for many other sports. Why? Because greater exposure and awareness have provided these athletes to perform not only for themselves and their teammates, but also for future generations.
Looking ahead, the sky may simply be a spectator of the limitless potential of women’s sport. As popularity and exposure continues to grow, the gap between men’s and women’s sport will shrink. Also, with a generation of young females provided with better pathways, coupled with inspiration and dreams of becoming a great athlete like their idols, a bright future awaits for women’s sport.