Women's Sport Week: The Captain's View

Kate Richardson-Walsh on the Road to Rio

Today marks the start of Women’s Sport Week. The whole sporting sector in this country will team up with the government and the media to celebrate the first ever National Women’s Sport Week, to raise the profile of women’s sport at all levels in the UK.

In the first of our series of coverage of Women’s Sport Week, we caught up with England and Great Britain Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh to get her thoughts on a topic that is very close to her heart.

To many sports fans, Richardson-Walsh needs little or no introduction. She is the player who caught the nation’s attention during London 2012 when she battled back from a broken jaw in the opening match of the Olympics to lead her team to a bronze medal in front of a partisan home crowd. Richardson-Walsh is approaching 350 international caps and was recently awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list. It is fair to say that she has a high public profile. With that increased profile, she believes her responsibility to women’s sport has also grown:

“I feel it’s part of our jobs to promote women’s sport and I know the rest of the squad feel the same. Lots of us go to schools and clubs to speak about sport. It’s really important to understand what it’s like for young women these days. They’re under so much pressure to be perfect in every way; in their grades, their appearance, their personalities, even the sports they play. We have to play our part in letting them know it’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to chase your dreams and to be prepared to just go for it. Only by doing that can you learn and grow. Sport is such an important part of those lessons and I love going on those visits and having that responsibility.”

The England players listen to the half time team talk

The Reading defender made her international debut in 1999 and has played in almost 30 international tournaments since then. In that time, she has seen things change a great deal, in particular in the media and coverage of women’s sport.

“When I first started playing, hockey was never really in the public eye except perhaps during the Olympics. We got some attention at the Commonwealth Games at Manchester [2002] because we did well and won a silver medal. We got some column inches but that was the first time. Since then, things have changed a lot. Having a sponsor like Investec has really altered the landscape. We’re on billboards, the side of taxis, magazines, things we’d never have dreamed of when I started out. Five or six of the squad have newspaper columns, too; it’s come a long way, definitely.”

Despite the positive strides, the fact remains that Women’s Sport makes up 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK. Just over 10% of televised sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport, 5% of radio coverage, 2% of national newspaper coverage and 4% of online sports coverage is devoted to women’s sport. Such small figures show that whilst progress is made, there is a long way to go, something the England Skipper agrees with:

“Things have moved on but we have a long way to go. I heard Clare Balding speaking recently and she was saying everyone has to play their part in making a difference. We can’t just blame the media; we have to make our own strides to make changes. The Olympics and the Paralympics obviously play a huge part in that, you see women pushed to the fore during those competitions but it’s up to us to seize those opportunities and make it an everyday occurrence.” she adds “Social media, online channels and TV coverage mean there are more ways to get the information but we still have a role to play in making it more widespread across those channels.”

Richardson-Walsh is an avid sports fan as well as a player, trawling the weekend newspapers for sporting stories is a favourite pastime of hers. A keen football fan, she enjoys the in-depth coverage the press provide on the sport, but she is also acutely aware that the all consuming power of football leaves little room for anything else:

“I’d love to see more variety in what’s reported. It’s so rare to see women’s sport covered in any detail. There are always sporting events going on, and I want to know about them all! We had the story of the England Women’s rugby team all going back to work a week after winning the World Cup, which caused a lot of attention and a lot of surprise, but sadly that’s the reality for a lot of female athletes. The public don’t realise and it’d be great to see those stories told in the mainstream media. I love football and the coverage it gets, but it'd be great to see some other sports getting a look in.”

Women's Sport Week

To find out more about Women's Sport Week, visit the Women in Sport Website.

Keep an eye out on Twitter for #WSW2015 and of course you can visit the England Hockey Facebook and Twitter pages for some of our very own content celebrating the extraordinary women who play our sport.