Women’s sport has a funding problem: why that matters for English netball

Women’s sport has a funding problem and despite their stunning Commonwealth victory, England’s netball squad could be under threat if they fail to generate enough cash to support their professional status, the sport’s chief executive has warned.

History was made at the Commonwealth Games in Queensland last Sunday, when the Roses, the England women’s netball team, became the nation’s first ever netball gold medallists after a dramatic last-second net secured their 52-51 victory against hosts and favourites Australia.

But despite this record-making achievement, the players face a threat to their future as professionals, due to a lack of sponsorship deals and brands being unwilling to supply funding to the sport.

And England Netball (EN), the sport’s governing body is struggling to bring in enough cash to keep their elite squad financially afloat post-2019 when the Netball World Cup takes place in Liverpool.

Chief executive, Joanna Adams, told the Telegraph that a lack of funding in women’s sport in general – and netball in particular – poses a threat to the team’s continued full-time professional status.

“People are not ploughing money into women’s sport,” she said.

“Everybody says they are – and there are a few brave brands – but realistically people are talking a good game but not parting with money.”

The team relies on funding from Sport England, a National Lottery fund awarding body intended to raise the profile of community sport – not professional teams. The Roses received £3m in funding from them in 2017, which formed part of a total of almost £17m given to England Netball as a whole.

“The representation of women’s sport, whether that’s football, tennis or cricket, has improved in recent years, and the Roses’ achievement is another example of why this matters.”

However, after the World Cup, they will become responsible for producing their own funding, despite the sport’s growing profile and the successes of the team on the Gold Coast. If they are unable to support their professional squad through commercially generated revenue, the full-time training programme, first launched in 2016 and responsible for delivering Sunday’s win, could cease to exist.

England goal shooter, Helen Housby, called the result “the best day of my life – and the best day of all these girls lives,” while head coach Tracey Neville described it as “a dream come true.” The team’s celebrations – sobbing, hugging, and cartwheeling across the point – were a joy to watch. And although few of us will ever experience the euphoria of winning a gold medal, qualifying for a national team, or even netting the winning goal in a match, this doesn’t need to prevent us from experiencing the benefits of watching and engaging with a more diverse range of sports.

The representation of women’s sport, whether that’s football, tennis or cricket, has improved in recent years, and the Roses’ achievement is another example of why this matters.

The Women’s Sports Foundation cites “a lack of positive role models” as a major factor in why girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys by the age of 14.

Graduate and au pair, Lucy Stewardson, 22, said: “ I always had a feeling that playing sport was seen as a very ‘masculine’ thing at school.

“I don’t remember having any female sporting role models and when I discussed it with boys I remember being told ‘women’s football isn’t really football though, is it?’

“I’m super happy for girls today being able to see female Olympic champions, and the netball recently, but I’m also definitely very envious too.”

Seeing the Roses being celebrated like this might just give young women a way to relate to sport, in a way they didn’t realise they could. Seeing women be competitive and successful – and celebrated for it – isn’t just good for the girls who are already sporty.

It’s important for the ones who need to realise that it’s more than okay to be slow or uncoordinated or even rubbish, as long as you’re having fun.

The purpose of school sport shouldn’t be to find the next Harry Kane or Helen Housby, although it’s great when it does, but to encourage kids to imagine that there could be a place for them on the cricket pitch, football field, swimming pool, or netball court where their achievements, no matter what they are, can be celebrated.

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