MP outlines ‘horrific tales’ in call to tackle misogyny in women’s sport

Fears around misogyny are having an impact on the number of women participating in sport, an MP has warned.

Labour’s Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) said that only when misogyny is recognised, will the abuse faced by women in sport be reduced.

And Ms Davies-Jones also outlined the “disturbing reality” of female wrestlers who had been targeted by threats of rape and sexual assault.

She told the Commons: “Time and time again, I have heard the same stories about how some sports are gendered early on. While I left school some years ago now it seems surprising to me that netball and hockey are still routinely aimed at women and girls and football and rugby aimed at the men and boys.

“If we are to reduce misogyny and sexism within support, then we must do more to encourage variety at the first opportunity. A huge part of this battle lies with us all. We all have a responsibility to call out misogyny and sexism where we can and wherever we can.”

Ms Davies-Jones added: “It is only when misogyny is recognised for exactly what it is will we be able to reduce the abuse that women in sport often face.

“We all know how important sport and exercise are for both our mental and physical wellness. I am particularly concerned that fears around misogyny are having an impact on the number of women participating in sport.”

As well as highlighting the disparities in broadcasting between men and women’s sport coverage, Ms Davies-Jones also raised the #SpeakingOut movement, detailing the experiences faced by female wrestlers.

She said: “The disturbing reality and lived experience for many female wrestlers is more often than not entrenched in misogyny. I have heard horrific tales from female wrestlers who were faced with threats of rape or sexual assault all in the name of friendly banter.

“I have also heard from women as young as 13 or 14 who at the start of their careers were the targets of vile behaviours that saw male wrestlers competing to be the first to take their virginity.

“The #MeToo movement shone a light on the inherent misogyny that persists across so many industries, but less well known is the #SpeakingOut movement that has tainted the wrestling industry with its harrowing stories of emotional and sexual abuse.

“These behaviours are disgraceful, yet they continue to persist and ultimately the sports industry urgently needs more regulation. The UK Government has a responsibility to engage proactively with governing bodies to support women and to bring an end to this abuse.”

The Labour MP concluded: “While it would be foolish of me to ask the Government to intervene on the practices in sports club boardrooms across the country, I can ask that (Sport minister Nigel Huddleston) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS) actively encourage better practices for clubs big and small.”

Mr Huddleston said the Government’s proposed online harms bill will tackle trolling by making web publishers more responsible for user safety online.

He told the Commons: “We are now more likely to see female presenters, pundits and commentators for both men’s and women’s sport on TV and radio.

“But this itself has been a catalyst for online abuse with female presenters being trolled and receiving misogynistic abuse from so-called fans who obviously believe women have no right to talk about sport, as the honourable lady mentioned.

“As I’ve said before about women in politics, if we want more women in sport we need to start treating the ones we’ve already got a lot better.”

He added: “Misogyny has no place in our society and any form of discrimination is abhorrent and we must do all we can to tackle it.

“We’ve heard examples this evening of women facing disproportionate challenges in the sector. The examples the honourable lady gave, and others, remain sadly all too frequent and they happen across many aspects of the sporting sector.

“In broadcasting, women’s sport still lags behind men’s in terms of coverage. It’s often only the biggest events such as the Olympics, the Paralympics, Wimbledon and so on where women’s sport gets equal level of screen time and debate.”