Can women’s sport survive in the post-pandemic world?

Half the population in the world is women and girls, so if you want society to grow in every sense, this is the opportunity.

From a business point of view, women’s sport is no longer a corporate social responsibility project, it is about engaging new and diverse brands and audiences to grow the following of a particular sport or sport in general.   -  AP

There are two aspects to it: women’s sport and women in sport. Let’s first talk about women’s sport.

I don’t think you can isolate India from the rest of the world in terms of the impact this pandemic may have on sports and women’s sports in particular. There will be a review of how and where money is invested in sports by brand and by media houses, but this is where I think women’s sport presents an excellent opportunity, both from a growth perspective and from the perspective of providing a brand with a purpose of delivering positive societal change.

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In India, though, I am convinced there is a bright commercial future for women’s sport post the pandemic just because the market opportunity is huge. Any sports organisation and/or brand that relies on data and insights rather than just instinct will know that women’s sport presents one of the biggest growth opportunity if marketed the right way. And India has seen that first hand. Star has been excellent in its promotion of women’s sport, be it P. V. Sindhu’s Olympic final that saw record-breaking ratings for non-cricket sports on TV or the recent International Cricket Council’s (ICC) major women’s events in 2017 and 2019. It proves that there is an audience, but it requires the product, i.e. women’s sport, to be packaged and presented well. From a business point of view, women’s sport is no longer a corporate social responsibility project, it is about engaging new and diverse brands and audiences to grow the following of a particular sport or sport in general. It makes business sense.

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Now let’s talk about the impact women’s sport can have on society. If you look at the recent Olympic success stories in India, most of them have been women. Women excelling in sport gives a sense of empowerment, not only to those who are playing, but also to those who are watching, especially younger girls. It creates role models to emulate and inspires girls (and hopefully boys) to take up sport.

There is research that shows that the majority of women in leadership positions played sports when they were younger. Sport encourages girls to break gender norms and become more confident, which helps them navigate through patriarchal norms and traditions much better. It equips them with life skills that help them at work and/or at home.

Six-time world champion M. C. Mary Kom (left) with Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who played the boxer in a biopic. The commercial success of Bollywood films like 'Mary Kom,' 'Chak De! India' and 'Dangal' indicates that India is craving real life stories of empowerment driven by women’s sports and women athletes.   -  AP

 

Half the population in the world is women and girls, so if you want society to grow in every sense, this is the opportunity.

I love using #SeeItToBeIt to reinforce that visibility matters. Women’s sport needs to be visible through various platforms to drive this societal change. We need to build more role models for young girls to look up to. Women’s sport needs to be aspirational. Look at what the 2017 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup did — there was a 300 percent increase in viewership from the 2013 event. Why did this happen — the product on the field was good and exciting, diverse fans (largely families) came to the grounds to watch, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) providing great access to players; social media was flooded with behind-the-scenes stories on the players and the broadcasters; both Star Sports in India and Sky Sports in the United Kingdom supported and marketed the event really well. Team India (women) in the final, live on TV sets in India on a Sunday, competing at Lord’s against England and many brands took notice. The result — in the last two years or so, Team India (women) cricketers are now endorsing different brands and products. So the bottom line is “visibility matters.”

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The commercial success of Bollywood films like Chak De! India, Mary Kom and Dangal indicates that India is craving real-life stories of empowerment driven by women’s sports and women athletes. These are stories about girls with aspirations who overcome hurdles and risks, break societal norms and boundaries to realise their dreams, and realise their true potential.

That’s what women’s sport represents in India. It is about breaking boundaries, giving women and girls a chance to dream, to aspire to realise their potential, rather than live within norms and traditions that favour boys and men over girls and women.

The danger now is that with this global crisis, people are going to cut budgets and focus on immediate results rather than on long-terms investments. I hope that’s not the case, and I strongly believe women’s sport will deliver long-term sustainable growth, which at this stage will not be too capital-intensive.

The other positive emerging from this crisis is that brands (and indeed consumers/fans) are looking to align with properties that have a clear and defined sense of purpose, that contribute to larger positive changes in society. And for reasons I elaborated earlier, women’s sports offers brands a clear purpose — women’s empowerment and gender equality.

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I also think as women’s sport can have such a huge positive impact on society and has been neglected for so long, the government needs to invest in it and provide some incentives for the private sectors and sports governing bodies to invest in it.

As for women in sports, when I started more than two decades ago as a sports broadcaster/broadcast journalist, there was a very limited number of women working in sports, be it journalists or broadcasters. If you go to a sports event now, I think you’ll see a positive change, but it still needs to get better. There are still very few women as volunteers, as coaches, in broadcast production units and other roles within sports.

Disappointingly, sports administration, especially in India, is still largely male-dominated. You hardly see women in leadership roles in sports administration, especially in India. I know Roma Khanna is the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup tournament director, which is a great move by FIFA and a testament to her talent and ability.

P. V. Sindhu’s Olympic final in 2016 saw record-breaking ratings for non-cricket sports on TV in India.   -  Mohammed Yousuf

 

I honestly believe that you should hire women only if they are right for the role, not because of their gender, but at least provide them with the opportunity and don’t deny it because of their gender. This requires a shift in mindset (and recruitment policies), which needs to come from the top, from the leadership of every organisation. Remember, 50 percent of the world’s population is women and girls, so you need gender diversity in decision-making to attract diverse fans.

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In an ideal world, you would have female and male champions of change, at every level in sports organisations, to drive growth across every aspect in sport (women’s and men’s), on and off the field.

We all have a chance to drive that change, so let’s do it.

Aarti Dabas has been involved in sports for more than 20 years, as a journalist, broadcaster and sports administrator, and until recently she served as head of media rights, broadcast and digital at the International Cricket Council.

As told to Amol Karhadkar.