As we reach the end of a fantastic year of sport for Scottish female athletes, Maureen McGonigle, the founder of SWiS tells us a little bit about what our organisation has achieved and what her hopes are for 2015.

swis1It is just over one year since the launch of SWiS and I’ve taken some time to look back at what we have achieved and document my hopes for the future.

To set the scene a little, let me tell you about myself. I have never been tagged with the word ‘athlete’ and was definitely someone who experienced all the negatives in school PE that so many women often talk about. I have memories of taken part in PE lessons in school knickers, red blaze parks for hockey and communal stark changing rooms! Therefore I can definitely understand why young girls can be turned off sport. Despite my own somewhat negative experiences, I have still always loved being active and I have always loved to watch sport.

However, over the years, and particularly through my time working within Scottish Women’s Football (SWF), my frustrstion over the lack of gender equity in sport is something which has grown strongly and I have never understood why female athletes in this country are treated as second class to their male counterparts.

With over 20 years’ experience working for women’s football in Scotland I am more aware than most of the difficulties of getting the press and media to take our female football clubs and players seriously. During my time there I must have heard every pun in the book and would be a rich women if I had a pound for every time a man would say – I’ll come to the game if they swap jerseys at the end! Most think this is harmless banter. But is it?

My journey with SWiS started out in 2013 after a superb showing at the 2012 Olympics by female athletes. Everyone noted a marked difference; there was a surge in coverage in the press in the run up to the Olympics and throughout the Olympics, even directly afterwards the British public were still being exposed to the successes of women in sport. However that was short lived and the media interest in women’s sport soon waned. This is documented in an excellent report from the Gender Hub called ‘The Circus Comes to Town’, which shows the spike in media attention and the subsequent drop.

Just around this time, Clare Balding stepped forward and took up the mantle for all female athletes. She, of course, has a well deserved position in the media. She has a voice that commands attention and what she had to say was shocking:

• 0.5% of the total sport sponsorship market in the UK is invested in women’s sport; while 61.1% is invested in men’s sports over the same period, with mixed sports accounting for the remainder of the market.

• 5% of sports media coverage features women; for every 53 articles written about men in sport, there is one about a woman.

• Currently up to 70% of boys participate in regular exercise, with some reports suggesting the amount of girls participating in sport is as low as 31%.

• Only 12% of girls at age 14 are taking the recommended amount of activity.

I was listening to her on the car radio and what she said struck a cord with me. But whilst I thought she was doing an excellent job, I just wasn’t sure how reflective her report was of the position here in Scotland and I felt that we needed our own organisation to look at base-line figures, to work with the media, to encourage investment into women’s sport and in that moment I decided I wanted to do something about it. I was determined to set up Scottish Women in Sport (SWiS) and use this as a tool to make a positive difference.

Initially I applied to the School for Social Entrepreneurs and was successful in securing a £4,000 grant. As well as the grant they provided me with twelve days of in house training which covered everything including Finance, IP, and Social Media .

SWiS Launched at the end of 2013 and comprised of representatives from sporting governing bodies, the media, MSPs, youth charities, business, equality groups and the health sector. We also received the backing of the Scottish Government as well as many high profile athletes and coaches.

Olympic gold medal rower Katherine Grainger and tennis coach Judy Murray attended the launch in November 2013, giving full support to the organisation. We all had one thing in common – desire for change – and we all agreed with that we needed to educate young girls on positive life choices, break down media stereotypes, create a strong voice to lobby and raise awareness, highlight positive role models, influence decision makers and encourage increased commercial investment into all sports that include women.

Our motto is Educate – Participate – Celebrate.

Originally it was my intention to try to run this organisation in my spare time but after being made redundant in December 2013 from my role with Scottish Women’s Football I decided to focus all my energies into SWiS and for at least twelve months. Since then the response to the organisation has been amazing and the interest in SWiS grows on a daily basis.

Our first major event was a conference supported by RBS at their headquarters in Edinburgh which was well attended and received. The conference investigated the alternatives to mainstream media and throughout the day presentations on social media, digital marketing and live streaming were delivered. This is definitely an area that women in sport are using to their distinct advantage.

shone robisonThe conference was a great success with many of the delegates staying behind to chat and network with like-minded people from various organisations from all over Scotland.

In November the inaugural SWiS Gala Awards dinner was held. This was in partnership with SSE and saw eight awards presented. All of these were supported by different category sponsors.

We ran an amateur photographer of the year competition in partnership with Daily Record and the standard of photographs received was startling. Ian Steele was named the winner with a fabulous netball pic. A great night was had by all in attendance, with my particular highlight being an interview with Eilidh Child by Alison Walker – Eilidh also picked up the top award of Sportswomen of the Year.

Now SWiS is in the market for investment. In order to progress at the rate we have done in the past year we need core investment into the organisation. The organisation remains to be self-financed and run by volunteers and to take it to the next level we require funding. We have an ambitious and exciting strategic plan for 2015 and funding would allow us to put it into practice.

SWiS line upRecently we were offered office premises in Glasgow Caledonian University Buchanan House, courtesy of GCU. This will be our base for the foreseeable future as we progress our work.

I feel now that time is right; there is a chink of light, a feeling, a movement spearheaded by women and supported by many men, demanding change in Scotland. The spin off from this will see more women in positions of leadership in sport – bringing a diversity and balance to decision making; better investment into all levels of sport from grass roots to elite; greater participation – young girls will read and see more about our athletes and hopefully get involved in sport, this will result in healthier, happier and more confident young women and girls in Scotland.

Looking forward to 2015 I know that SWiS can succeed. We have a great bunch of committed and innovative people on Team SWiS and I know it is their hope as much as mine to make a change and make a difference! If you want to get involved in SWiS and support our work, join us – sign up to our blogs, follow us on twitter, spread the word – let’s see where we are this time next year – if we work together and support each other I’m confident that change will happen and that will be visible to all.

So in closing can I send my best wishes to you at this special time of year – whatever your belief – I wish you all health and happiness and look forward to continuing our good work with your help in 2015.