Over the last decade, we have seen a tremendous rise in the popularity of women's sport around the world. Highlighted recently in Melbourne with the popularity of the Women's Cricket World Cup and AFLW competitions, women's sport is very much on an upwards trajectory. Almost 50% of women are interested in sport, more people are tuning in to watch women's sport, and more girls and women are playing sport than ever before.
Women's sport has not always been in such a positive place. While there are still major discrepancies between participation rates and income between men and women, a few brave souls over the years have helped women's sport to reach its current state. Women’s sport history started back in the 19th century, with certain sports such as horseback riding, archery, golf, and tennis enjoyed by the upper classes. However, female athletes did not compete in the 1st modern Olympic Games in 1896, and only 12 competed in the second edition.
In the decades that followed, more women started to play different sports, with a few important milestones reached along the way. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer made history by circumventing the ban that prevented women from competing in a marathon. In 1980, women in Brazil were allowed to play soccer legally for the first time. And in 2019, the Australian soccer team the Matildas became the first big national team to match the income of their male counterparts.
Famous as a sporting nation, Australia continues to lead the way in the female sport arena. According to new research from the Commonwealth Bank, 53% of the population are either watching women's TV or attending live events. Increased interest is being driven by 31% more exposure, 30% more positive media coverage, and a 21% rise in high profile female athletes. Over the past 12 months, people have been able to access every W-League, WBBL, Super W, and AFLW game via live streaming or TV.
While there are more women interested in sport than ever before, sporting tastes and participation rates differ widely around the world. In the United States, American football is the most popular sport among women; in the United Kingdom, it's tennis; in China, badminton reigns supreme; in Japan, ice skating comes out on top; and in Mexico, it's soccer. There are also significant differences across the world in terms of participation, even between neighbouring nations. For example, 84% of young Chinese women play sports at school, compared to just 16% of young Japanese women.
While the rise in women's sport can be seen across the elite sporting landscape, there is still a long way to go. According to the Commonwealth Bank research, the main barriers preventing young girls from taking up sport include a lack of girl's teams, the perception of not being included, and girls not wanting to play without their friends. However, with the rise of certain women's sports and sporting teams certain to inspire a new generation of female athletes, positive changes at the grassroots level seem almost inevitable.