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Women in Sport Conference raises key questions

The first Women in Sport Conference took place in Nyon with the aim of inspiring delegates to take steps in realising the still-untapped full potential of females in the sporting sector.

Karen Espelund speaking at the first Women in Sport Conference in Nyon, Switzerland
Karen Espelund speaking at the first Women in Sport Conference in Nyon, Switzerland ©UEFA.com

Over 100 women who are active in sport gathered at UEFA headquarters on 19 February, on the shores of Lake Geneva – home to almost half of all international sports governing bodies – for the first Women in Sport Conference organised by womeninsport.com.

The starting point was the realisation that, despite recent progress, women remain under-represented in the world of sport. Compared with their male counterparts, there are fewer female participants, they earn less as athletes and administrators, and they are less frequently seen on executive boards, while women's sport also receives less media coverage.

"There is absolutely no doubt that women in sport are a force for good. That said, their full potential as a group has yet to be realised. I therefore consider it a privilege to be taking part in this first Women in Sport Conference, the aim of which is to take important steps to maximise that potential," said Karen Espelund, member of the UEFA Executive Committee.

"This event is an opportunity for women from all sectors of the sports industry to share their experiences and ideas, and to become part of a growing network of sports professionals and sport enthusiasts."

In terms of popularity, women's football is one of the fastest-growing sports worldwide. However, in all sports and at all levels – from pitch to boardroom – more women need to carve out a place for themselves before we can talk about gender equality in sport. At present, just 17% of all positions of responsibility in sporting bodies are held by women.

What about women in the Olympics? It was not until London 2012 that a real turning point was reached with regard to participation. For the first time in history, 44% of the athletes were women. According to the International Olympic Committee's Dominique Niyonizigiye, whose programmes include Women and Sport, this marked the start of a new era.

Clara Pietri, a remarkably mature 20-year-old golf champion who is preparing to turn professional, came to Nyon to talk about her career, her passion for golf and what it feels like to be a woman in sport. She believes that, instead of being seen as a negative, the differences between men and women should be cultivated at all levels.

"Physically you can't compare women with men. But this is what makes women's sport so beautiful: what we lack in strength we have to make up for in tactics, skill and creativity."

UN Women's Anna Falth reminded the conference that, far from being a minority in society, women make up half the world's population. And sport should mirror society. There are lots of initiatives popping up in support of women in sport and that can only be a good thing. The conference participants agreed, however, that there is still some way to go in changing mindsets and organisational structures.

For Tatiana Oberson, who founded Women in Sport and organised this first conference, the goal was to further raise the awareness of the 130 participants and hope that they would then question the status quo within their organisations.

For more information on Women in Sport, visit womeninsport.com.

You may also like to explore UN Women's interactive platform for the economic empowerment of women: empowerwomen.org.