Written by Laurel Hunt
2022 was a watershed year in women’s sports with an endless stream of highs. These included England winning the Women’s European Football Championship, with Beth Mead going on to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award. American swimmer Katie Ledecky won her record breaking fifth 800m world title, and the first edition of the Tour de France Femmes made a successful debut. So, having just named a few of the sporting highlights of 2022, it’s clear that it's been a year that's kick started the growth of women's sports, and a reminder that women’s sports as brilliant a watch as men's.
The Lionesses: the pride of the nation. How could anyone forget that sly kick from Chloe Kelly in the 110th minute of the Euro’s final against Germany? It was at that moment that it hit me. This was huge. Huge for not only England, but huge for women of all sports. Huge for young girls who thought they couldn’t join the local football club because it was a ‘boys’ sport. And huge for women who hadn’t perceived football as a space for them to enjoy and express themselves. This win was revolutionary. It was influential not only on the public, but on the media too. The media is the one tool that holds all control and power over public opinion and perception, so what did they have to say about it?
According to the BBC, the Women’s Sports Trust found that audiences of women’s sports doubled from 2021 to 2022. With 36.1 million viewers between January – July 2022, this increased by some 20 million from the previous year. On a more global scale, female athletes now have their own sports network in America, thanks to the creation of a specialised streaming service. This sports network partnered with the Women’s NBA, the LPGA (Golf), as well as coverage of ski and snowboarding. These are not new disciplines in the field of women’s sports, but they are now more accessible to crowds that were possibly unaware that they did exist. Increased coverage of women’s sports has given the public the opportunity to engage with something they hadn’t before, and in return has given sportswomen a connection with a fanbase. This growth has been pivotal in all areas.
As England women’s football captain Leah Williamson quoted after their revolutionary win, “The legacy of this tournament is everything that we’ve done, we’ve brought everybody together, we’ve got people at games.” Despite there still not being nearly enough equal representation for women’s sports as there is for men's, 2022 truly felt like we were starting to get somewhere. However, coverage of women’s sports is only one of the challenges that female athletes face in pushing for equality. Despite many sports attempting to resolve the issue of equal pay in recent years, a gender pay difference remains. We are talking millions of pounds. The US Women’s National Soccer Team in 2022 secured, after three years of efforts, equal pay and training facilities to their male equivalents.
So, upon reflection of the outstanding year of triumphs in women’s sport, let’s discuss the efforts and systems that have been put in place to maintain the progression of young girls into mainstream competition, so we can see more legendary moments in years to come. A highlight in my eyes has been the introduction of the F1 Female Drivers Academy, which aims to “prepare young female drivers for elite competition”. This provides more opportunities for young women to compete at a higher level in a sport which has garnered much popularity over the past few years. A report by the charity Women in Sport, alongside Sports Direct has called for greater investment into grassroot level sport, like in schools for example, to ensure that young girls have access to a sports team. The future of women’s sports is looking up, with the increased attention on young girls in sports.
2022 has been about accessibility, visibility, and growth of women’s sport. There’s been an acknowledged shift towards equality across all disciplines. And there’s been reassurance that there exists a hunger for women’s sports coverage and, with that, desire to participate. Women have proved once again that their standard of sport is just as watchable, and enjoyable as men’s. This upcoming year will see many other brilliant sporting events dominating our screens: the Women’s FA Cup Final in May, The Ashes in June and July, and the Solheim Cup in September. I hope, and believe, that 2023 will only prove further progression of active efforts to push for young girls to just go for it. They need to know that they too can bring it home.