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Women in Sport: New report shows gendered 'dream deficit' in girls hoping to reach top level of sport

New research from charity Women in Sport highlights fewer than a third of girls (29 per cent) aspire to reach the top of sport compared to half of boys (52 per cent) – a two per cent decline from last year

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A report by Women in Sport has found that less than a third of girls aspire to reach elite level sport

Less than a third of girls dream of reaching the top level of sport compared to over half of boys, a new report from charity Women in Sport has revealed. 

The charity has spent the last three years tracking how the increased visibility of elite women's sport has inspired girls and the report has exposed the gendered 'dream deficit', with just 29 per cent dreaming of reaching the top of sport compared to 52 per cent of boys.

Despite inspirational performances from football's Lionesses and netball's Vitality Roses this summer, the latest data shows the number of girls who aspire to play elite-level sport has declined by two per cent compared to the same time a year ago.

'Daring to Dream - The Gender Dream Deficit in Sport' did find the success of women's sport on the world stage has helped to release the hopes of a generation of girls who love sport and take part already, with 86 per cent of girls in this category believing they can be like a Lionesses.

Although the visibility of elite female athletes is increasing, 82 per cent still believe women's sport is not taken as seriously as men's. Gender stereotyping also continues to have a negative impact, with 35 per cent of girls believing they're not expected to be good at sport, compared with just four per cent of boys.

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Sky Sports News' Anton Toloui and Gail Davis reflect on England's 1-0 World Cup final defeat to Spain earlier this summer

Women in Sport CEO Stephanie Hilborne said: "As children we are all asked what we want to be when we grow up. For most boys they will aspire to be a successful footballer, but generations of little girls have been denied this classic dream.

"Women's team sport was never on the TV or seen as glamorous but now this is changing, aided by the heroic efforts of some amazing sportswomen.

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"There have been many steps forward in women's sport and the right visibility is vital to this, but sadly, as with women in other high-profile arenas, misogyny is casting a shadow, making the prospect of success less appealing. It makes girls and women question whether they are genuinely welcomed into, belong in, and truly want to be in the world of sport.

The public display of misogyny witnessed following Spain's 2023 World Cup victory also played a big role in how girls feel about the treatment of female athletes, with 72 per cent saying the 'questionable kiss' opened their eyes to how women in sport are treated.

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Lydia Greenway, Charles Dagnall and Lauren Winfield-Hill discuss misogyny and sexism in the women’s game in response to the ICEC report which found widespread sexism in the English game earlier this year

"We are determined to challenge negative narratives around women in sport, fight against misogyny through policy change and work to change stereotypes so that all girls feel they belong in sport - and boys make them feel welcome," Hilborne added. "We aren't prepared to sit back and watch misogyny and gender stereotyping stifle girls' dreams."

Lionesses Chloe Kelly and Nikita Parris, speaking to Sky Sports News, both believe positive change is happening but it will take time

"Being able to see it and believe it, I think that's the most important thing," Kelly said.

"Growing up that was never the case but now, young girls being able to see their idols, see us playing professional football, they can start believing it.

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England's World Cup runner-up Jess Carter believes Spain's victory in the competition has now been tarnished by the actions of Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales

"The work we do on and off the pitch, being good role models, and being exciting to watch as well for young girls coming to watch and support us. We want them to be excited and want them to think that is what they want to be when they are older.

"Our job is to do that and to be able to see it, you will be able to believe it then."

Parris added: "We're moving in the right direction for that.

"When I was younger, if you were asked who your favourite footballer was, I'd always point to a male player. But now, young fans will say female players. For example, we've seen Mary Earps selling England shirts and they are selling out every single time.

"The culture is changing. It's not going to happen overnight. It will take time but it is definitely changing."

What improvements could be made?

When asked about what they would like the future of sport to look like, six in 10 girls would like to see equal coverage of women's and men's sport and more than half of girls believe the achievements of women in sport deserve to be celebrated more.

Girls also said a greater diversity of female athletes would encourage them to get more involved in sport, while 46 per cent would like to see an increase in opportunities to try a variety of sports at a young age and more chances to join clubs and teams outside of school.

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Director of Deloitte's Sports Business Group UK, Zoe Burton believes Women's sport could be worth more than one billion pound in the years to come

Reflecting on the research, a spokesperson from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: "We want as many women and girls as possible to get involved in sport and physical activity for all the positive benefits it brings to people's lives.

"Government is taking action to improve equal access through unprecedented investment in grassroots facilities, with over 2,200 projects already delivered across the UK.

"On top of this we have established the Lionesses Futures Fund worth £30m to deliver 30 new state-of-the-art pitches, in addition to the commitment and funding to provide equal access to sport in schools.

"We know there is more to do, which is why our National Physical Activity Taskforce is looking at how to encourage more people to get active to hit our ambition of getting 3.5m more people, including 1.25m women, active by 2030."

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