Sport boardrooms still male despite women’s Olympic success

The boardrooms of British sport are stubbornly and overwhelmingly male, despite the unprecedented success of female athletes, according to research published today. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation’s annual leadership audit of 57 national governing bodies found that more than half of its boards were falling short of a minimum target ratio of 25 per cent.

Six sports have no women on their boards, including cycling, which was one of Britain’s most successful sports at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics on the back of multiple gold-medal performances by females.

The findings have led Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and Minister for Women, to call a meeting today with sports administrators, recruitment consultants and independent experts including Baroness Grey-Thompson, the 13 times former Paralympic champion, to discuss ways to encourage more women into the top jobs. She said: “British women led the way in the Olympic and Paralympic Games … but there is still some way to go to improve the representation of women.”

The fourth Trophy Women report showed the ratio of women directors year-on-year at 22 per cent.

There has been the occasional breakthrough. In December 2011, Heather Rabbatts, whose past roles include chief executive at Lambeth Council and BBC governor, became the first woman appointed to the board of the Football Association in its 150-year history.

The general picture however is that sport remains a male bastion despite the rise to public prominence of highly successful female Olympians including Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Becky Adlington.

Thirty-three boards do not meet the 25 per cent minimum expectation set by UK Sport and Sport England to get more women into leadership roles in sport by 2017.

The so-called “big four” sports – football, rugby union, cricket and tennis – have a respective female board ratio of 7 per cent, 6 per cent, 14 per cent and 13 per cent.

Just nine sports have female chief executives – baseball/softball, gymnastics, rowing, triathlon, hockey, rounders, sailing and volleyball.

Seven sports have female performance directors – archery, fencing, orienteering, swimming, weightlifting, wheelchair rugby and goal ball.

“The lack of diversity makes it harder for them [governing bodies] to give elite sportswomen the support they need as well as damaging participation at grassroots level,” Sue Tibballs, the foundation’s chief executive, said.

“It is particularly shocking that after the Olympics and Paralympics, six sports boards still don’t have a single woman represented on them.” She estimates that sport needs just 58 more women in the system to bring every governing body up to the 2017 target.