In a remarkable milestone that represents passion, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of equality, Scottish Women in Sport (SW/S) proudly celebrates its tenth anniversary as a charity. For a decade, SW/S has been carving out a new narrative for women in sports across Scotland. As the organisation reflects upon its journey over the last decade, it does so with the firm belief that this is just the beginning—a foundation upon which a more inclusive, vibrant, and diverse future for Scottish women’s sport is being built.
2023 marks a decade of Scottish Women in Sport, we start the celebrations at the conference, which will question – how much progress has there been in the past 10 years?
Since its inception, the organisation has been on a mission to challenge norms, break barriers, and champion the cause of women’s sport, hoping to catalyse a seismic shift in the sporting landscape of Scotland.
From the exhilarating highs of Olympic/Paralympic and Commonwealth victories to the grassroots empowerment in local communities, people across Scotland have witnessed a change in the last ten years of unwavering commitment to gender parity in sports. The change in women’s sport has been felt not only in the achievements of elite athletes but also in the quiet victories of young girls stepping onto the fields and pitches, into the pool and on the court for the first time, fueled by the knowledge that their dreams are valid and attainable.
As SW/S marks a decade of accomplishments, we take a look at some of the achievements, not only for ourselves but for the whole of women’s sport. Marking the Scottish women who have been instrumental in these changes.
The whole of the country stands on the cusp of an exciting future—a future that promises even more incredible strides, broader horizons, and a collective determination to shatter every glass ceiling that dares to cast a shadow.
I think to understand how SW/S came about, it’s important to understand founder, Maureen McGonigle’s own journey into sport, and how she found herself in sport that brought her to creating the charity, SW/S.
It was back in the late seventies after Maureen had her daughter and son that she left the workforce to raise them. Being a mother and being involved in sport is something we’ve written about a lot. Highlighting the struggle that is as observed an impossible decision – to return to work or to stay at home. Either way, often women are told it’s the wrong choice. But for Maureen, it put her on a path that brings us all here today.
As her children got older, she found herself working for Scottish Amateur Wrestling. And in the lead-up to the 1986 Commonwealth Games, her boss (Sandy McNeil) elected her to represent the group in Malta. One of the only women in the room, she was empowered to keep making moves in a male-dominated space.
It was after this that Maureen was asked to work for Scottish Women’s Football (SWF). At the time of joining the SWF, there were 18 senior teams, there are now 35 teams playing in the Scottish Women’s Football League 2022 season.
She then went on to work in the admin side of the team for 20 years. The Scottish National team entered to the European championship and it was up to Maureen to secure a finance to take the team to the qualifying stages. It wasn’t easy for them and it was an upward hurdle just to find transport to get them to the matches.
From sourcing a 32 seater plane to take them to Faroe Islands, to borrowing flag poles from the local garage to hoist the UEFA flag when playing home matches as well as bargaining a deal to get the women’s team their own strip only to overhear two men discuss how it looked like they were playing in their pyjamas, (although it was the same tartan as Greenock Morton!) was just the beginning of Maureen’s fight for equality.
Her next task was to get the Scottish Football Association to recognise SWF as An Affiliated National Association and to take responsibility for the women’s team, which up until this point they had not done. Spoiler alert – she did it.
Maureen became the first woman to sit on the SFA council.
In interviews, Maureen is often asked, what inspired you to start SW/S?
The answer she gives is that she heard Claire Balding talking on the radio about the lack of representation and coverage that women’s sports were getting. This was in 2012.
So here we are. A decade on, there’s a lot that has happened in that time. Not just for SW/S but across the landscape of women’s sports in Scotland.
One of the most notable women in Scottish sports is one who stood next to Maureen on the day they launched was Katherine Grainger. She is one of the most successful female rowers in British history. She won five Olympic medals, including a gold at the 2012 London Olympics in the double sculls. Her dedication and achievements have helped raise the profile of rowing and women’s sports.
At the launch in 2013, Katherine was quoted saying: “I think initially the thought behind it (starting SW/S) was about raising the profile, so especially the media side of things. But I think there’s now the understanding that it’s equally if not more important to get women into sport, of all ages. Right from school age when a lot of girls drop out of sports to women well into adulthood who just need it as part of their lives to be fitter and healthier. As well as women in organisations, who are making decisions, who are sitting on boards, and are coaching athletes is the big driving force behind what we are doing now.”
The ethos of SW/S is ever-changing as we learn more about what the women of Scotland need. There has been a focus on raising the profile of female sportspeople, that evolved to encourage women into sports at all levels. There have been partnerships with SAMH, UWS, Loganair, the project – Girls Do Sports, and The SW/S Hall of Fame. We have helped with research about women in leadership and celebrated the people at local levels of sports, coaches, and clubs right through to the women winning Olympic and Paralympic medals.
All of this culminates into what SW/S has become 10 years on and I personally can’t wait to see what will come in the next decade.
Image (c) Bobby Muir – Laura Muir | (c) University of Strathclyde – Toni Shaw
There are women sprinkled across Scotland making big headway in all manners of sports but here are just a few, that have changed the course for women in their field.
Laura Muir, SW/S sportswoman of the year 2020 has too many titles to her name to list, but it’s probable her ‘biggest’ achievement was the silver medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Resulting in Scotland’s first individual medal in track since 1988. She competes in Budapest this week as captain for Team GB at the World Athletics championships.
Kim Little is one of Scotland’s most celebrated football players in recent history. She was awarded an MBE for services to football in the 2023 New Year Honours List and has won six league titles during her time at Arsenal, not to mention three FA Cups and five league cups. She extended her contract with the club earlier this year, as team captain. She was also vice-captain for Scotland until her retirement from international playing in 2021.
Team Muirhead won our Team of the Year award in 2022. Eve led her team to a Gold medal in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Having a World Championship and three European titles to her name, Eve retired last year but her focus is now on ensuring that curling remains accessible to as many young people as possible. With the closures of rinks across Scotland her attention has now shifted to furthering her legacy. The possibility that an entire generation could miss out because of the increasing running costs just isn’t an option for her.
Eilish McColgan took Gold at last year’s Commonwealth Games in 10,000m, breaking the Commonwealth record and Silver in the 5000m. I remember watching it with my folks as Eilish crossed the finish line, all of us jumping and cheering with a tear in our eyes as she did. Coached by her mother, Liz McColgan who won the Olympic Silver medal in Seoul 1988 Olympic Games. She was also awarded Loganair Sportswoman of the Year in 2022 at the SW/S Awards.
Toni Shaw is one of Scotland’s rising stars. At only 18 she won her first Paralympic medal in Tokyo – a Bronze in the 400m freestyle and in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, she landed another bronze in the 100m freestyle. You might remember we wrote a feature about research going on at the University of Strathclyde where Toni’s prosthetic arm was developed. Although she does not use it for competing, it does help with training. She is now a Learn to Swim ambassador, encouraging children and young people of all abilities to be more confident in the pool.
Aileen McGlynn OBE, after a career spanning 20 years, the 2021 SW/S Para Athlete of the Year hung up her cycling helmet to retire. She was once hailed the comeback queen of the Paralympics and competed in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics on the velodrome alongside pilot Helen Scott. In the 1000m Time Trial, she medalled silver, as well as the WB Individual Pursuit, where she finished 8th overall. She is a highly accomplished athlete and person, as an alumnus of multiple Paralympics, world championships, and world record holders. Aileen has set an example for girls that no barrier is unbreakable when it comes to competing in sports.
Although these women have come out, frankly against all odds, a lot of them started out when there wasn’t the same coverage that we get today, or the same funding or research being done, to achieve the successes they have. They set up the platform for future generations to achieve the amazing things they have, but with less of a flight.
After all, that’s what we’re trying to do. Create a brighter future for the coming generations so they don’t have the same struggle.
What has changed in the past decade?
A report from the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport showed that between January 2010 and August 2011, only 0.5% of the total market sponsorship was for women’s sports. Only 5% of sports media coverage featured women and for every 53 articles written about men in sports, there was just one about a woman.” Maureen wrote this in The National when marking the fifth anniversary of SW/S.
When it comes to sponsorship, in the last decade these numbers have been on a steady increase. At the 2017 Women’s World Cup there were only six brand sponsorship deals with the FA, at this year’s World Cup, there are 17. In a short span of time, there has been a greater deal of interest and investment.
One of our speakers at this week’s event is Kayleigh Grieve, a founding member of SW/S. She is a marketing leader, passionate about driving change and progress in women’s football. As UEFA’s Senior Marketing Manager, she has spent the last five years building a powerful marketing platform for women and girls football that is aimed at driving the participation of girls and women. Changing the perception of the game, growing audiences, and building a commercial program that has successfully driven significant new revenues into the game.
Coverage on channels like BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4, ITV and Sky Sports main event saw a rise to 16 per cent of coverage hours dedicated to women’s sports between January-July 2022, in comparison to nine per cent in 2021.
Miranda Barty Taylor, is another of our speakers who will be discussing the media coverage of Scottish women’s sports. She conducts research to monitor and advocate for an increase in gender equality in Scotland’s rich media, creative and cultural sectors. Engender aims to provide much-needed data on media and cultural output, workforces and leadership. A sociolinguist, Miranda uses critical discourse analysis to examine how gendered news coverage continues to uphold sexist stereotypes – and exclude some voices altogether.
This year’s conference will see the much-anticipated return of Dr Laura Forrest. A favourite of ours on the SW/S blog. Over the past 10 years, researchers at UWS have been working towards understanding women’s health and sport. Speaking about their research on menstrual health, the impact of the menstrual cycle in sports and menstrual education. Education was found to be a key means of enhancing experiences and management of the menstrual cycle. The research has expanded to pupil and teacher experiences of menstrual health education and delivering menstrual health education interventions in the sports and education sectors.
Scottish Squash will also present to the conference, their journey to achieving a 50:50 ratio between men and women on their board. They have placed gender equality as a priority for squash across Scotland. Partnership working and collaboration have been key to the success. They have established a women and girls-focused development role to develop a ground-breaking squash programme and the women’s national team returned to the top flight of European Squash, finishing in the top 8 of the 2022 World Team Championships.
This programme kicked off over six years ago when they participated in the SW/S ‘Girls Do Sport’ programme, creating Girls Do Squash, in partnership with UWS and supported by Brand Oath.
These are just a few of the things to look forward to on Wednesday but with lots more on offer, it’s a day you couldn’t possibly want to miss out on. A more detailed plan for the day’s events can be found here.
So do join us in commemorating a decade of empowerment, as Scottish Women in Sport embarks on its next chapter of greatness—a journey that holds the promise of rewriting the script for women’s sports and etching a legacy that time will never erase. This is not merely a celebration; it’s a declaration that the story of Scottish women in sport is far from over—it’s a story that’s just beginning to unfold