In Review : WSA X GIS Women’s Sport Conference 2021

On Wednesday 3rd February 2021, the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA) held its inaugural Women’s Sport Conference in tandem with partner organisation the Global Institute of Sport (GIS) at University Campus of Football Business (UCFB). The evening, hosted by NFL coach and former Great Britain captain, Phoebe Schecter, was full of insightful conversation from guest speakers from across the women’s sports industry.

The event welcomed guests from three areas of the WSA: Athletes, Coaches, and contributors, to offer personal insight into the current state of women’s sport. Each guest shared first-hand knowledge of the many challenges faced by women in the sports industry, and shared suggestions for the future growth and progress of women’s sport.

Firstly, the audience was introduced to representatives from the two host organisations: Jordan Guard, Founder of WSA, and Claire Fairhurst, Assistant Head of Student recruitment at UCFB.

The partnership between the two organisations is built on the shared goals of boosting and progressing the women’s sports industry. Jordan Guard outlined the WSA’s objectives towards achieving this goal. She explained, “ The WSA is here to help everyone of all ages to drive excellence and progress in women’s sports. We have three main missions: champion the success of the elite, drive performance levels of the high performing, and inspire the next generation of talent.”

Athletes, Georgia Stevens of Coventry United LFC, and Great Britain Squash star Sarah-Jane Perry, formed the first panel to offer thoughts on the industry. As members of the WSA athletes cohort, Stevens and Perry were full of praise for the work that organisations such as the WSA and UCFB, are doing to raise the profile of women’s sport.

As a current student of UCFB, Stevens explained how her time studying the industry has helped her career so far. “UCFB have put me in good stead, not only with the courses, which are great, but the flexibility has allowed me to be an athlete, to live and train like an athlete, but also to keep working on my education.”

Of the WSA, Sarah-Jane Perry exclaimed, “The WSA is just fantastic! Getting so many people together who are passionate about women’s sport, and from so many different areas of sport, is amazing.” She continued, ”To be able to network and reach out to all those people, the knowledge sharing and collaboration…. the possibilities are limitless!”

The second panel of the evening comprised of two members of the WSA coaching cohort, who detailed their experiences working in women’s sport.

WSA Member and Team GB diving coach, Jane Figueiredo, whose role involves coaching both female and male divers, spoke of the importance of male allies in pursuing equality for women across sport. Mentor to Tom Daley, Figueiredo praised the Olympic medallist and his Team GB colleagues for their efforts in supporting their female counterparts. She disclosed, “Tom is always the first to step forward to make sure his female teammates are receiving all the help and support the men are… that is something they all do of their own accord…it’s great to see.”

Another WSA member, Everton Women FC assistant coach Chris Roberts, attested to the vast changes he has witnessed during his many years working in professional women’s football.

Asked to speak on what he sees to be the biggest change that has taken place in women’s sport in the last decade, Roberts said, “Without doubt the fact that women can have football as a full-time job. We are now able to provide the right environment for them to reach their best level…the professionalism of the game has improved immensely.”

Although he is proud of how far the women’s game has progressed, Roberts did offer suggestions on how to develop further support for female athletes in the future. He said, “Now that it is a full-time profession for players, what is the next step once they retire from football? What can we put in place to support the next step of their journey? Through education or coaching…making sure they have something to move on to after their football journey (as a player) finishes.”

The third and final panel of the evening saw WSA Contributors Prerna Acharya and Dale Bennett, discuss their roles in the business side of the women’s sport industry.

Current UCFB student and Board member of Imperial Wharf FC, Prerna Acharya spoke of the welcoming and inclusive nature of women’s sport, as a key factor in trying to encourage more people to get involved. She explained, “ The culture around women’s sport is not as fragmented as men’s sport, in a sense that you are not divided by what team you support. The welcoming nature of it, of how supportive and passionate people are, you just always want to be involved.”

Women’s football agent Dale Bennett, spoke of how he approaches his role representing the interests of female athletes, and his impressions of the status of the industry. He said, “You have to work hard and always be open to listening to different people’s points of view. I am in this game for the long run and for the right reasons… it’s new, it’s on the rise, and its very very competitive.”

Overall, the inaugural Women’s Sports Conference hosted by the WSA and UCFB was an enlightening, educational and thought-provoking event. Athletes, coaches, and contributors from across women’s sports added valuable insight, into how to tackle an array of important challenges facing the industry. Host Phoebe Schecter remarked in her introductory address, “We need to reassess the idea of a ‘man’s world’. It is about changing the mindset; it may be male dominated but that will and should not be the case forever.” While many involved in women’s sports will recognise the progress made across the industry in the last decade, there are still large issues that remain unresolved. Nevertheless, with the work being done by organisations such as the WSA and UCFB, women’s sport has a bright future ahead.