Scottish sport is not grasping the full potential of women to lead and grow participation levels - Ryan Brown

In a week that celebrated ‘Women and Girls in Scottish Sport’, the Observatory for Sport in Scotland (OSS) published research in partnership with Scottish Women in Sport note-0that investigated levels of female influence across sport.

The election in 2018 of Dee Bradbury as Scottish Rugby’s first female president and appointment of Sue Strachan as Cricket Scotland’s first female president this year have fuelled perceptions that female leadership is in rude health in Scotland.

However, the research, which featured over 80 sports governing bodies, national organisations and leisure providers, suggests the perception is not matched by reality. It revealed definite signs of improvement in gender diversity across sport, but it has been slow. At the current rate of change, it would take almost 25 years to achieve gender equality in the most influential Scottish sport leadership roles.

The past five years have witnessed an increase of 35 females on sport governing body boards (to 33 per cent), yet, intriguingly, there has been a decrease in male board members of just two, suggesting that boards are growing to accommodate women rather than altering levels of influence. Women make up 51.5 per cent of the Scottish population, yet, in 2020, less than one in five chairs and CEOs of sport organisations were female, and the number of female coaches and officials in Scottish sport was around 28 per cent.

Ryan Brown, Research and Operations Support Officer, Observatory for Sport in Scotland. Picture: Contributed

Direction on gender diversity, respondents stated, came largely from the Scottish Government agency sportscotland, but the research found that while Sport England (30 per cent), Sport Wales (40 per cent), Sport Ireland (30 per cent) and Sport Northern Ireland (25 per cent) set targets for sport clubs and organisation to work towards in order to secure government funding, sportscotland make no such request. The national agency has developed wider diversity and equality guidance, and was praised for a shifting focus in recent years that has helped sport organisations to become more diversity-aware. Turning policy into practice, however, remains a challenge, many respondents stated.

The report makes seven recommendations. These include sportscotland reconsidering a decision to drop a dedicated ‘Women and Girls’ officer, overseeing gender diversity, considering gender targets linked to accreditation and funding, and agreeing standard performance indicators for publication to help monitor improvement.

There are welcome positive signs of girls and women being more active in sport, but the statistics tell us that girls drop out of sport quicker and in greater numbers than boys in teenage years - a trend exacerbated by Covid - so despite outnumbering boys at age eight to 10, there remains a persistent gender gap from that point on in Scottish male and female participation in sport. This is less apparent or non-existent in Europe’s most active countries.

If true that ‘you can only be what you can see’, improving gender diversity in sport leadership would appear to be a good move to encourage more girls and women into sport.

To read the full report, visit

Ryan Brown, Research and Operations Support Officer, Observatory for Sport in Scotland


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