The Importance of Female Role Models in Sport


This year’s Olympics came with great anticipation as the world has been without live sport for most of the past 18 months. This year’s games were significant for a number of reasons, not least of which was for the diversity, inclusivity and balanced gender profile of the participants. For the first time in the 121 years that females have been allowed to compete in the Olympic Games, 48.3% of athletes at the Tokyo Olympics are female, the most gender-neutral year in history.

Female athletes have been dominating our headlines, with both their successes and difficulties as well as their stance against sexualisation of females in sport. This significant increase in female participation and visibility at the Olympics comes at a critical time. In December 2020, research conducted by the Women’s Sports Federation found that 1 in 2 females in Ireland drop out of sport before they’re 20, with a similar narrative occurring across Europe, Australia and Canada. According to this same research, 65% of girls don’t know of any sporting role models in their chosen sport but could name a male one. Role Models play a significant role in our decision making and have the potential to subconsciously ‘nudge’ us in a particular direction. Having names such as Simone Biles, Elaine Thompson-Herah and Kellie Harrington constantly making the headlines for being the bravest, strongest and fastest athletes, places these deserved woman as future role models to all the females (and males), young and old eagerly watching them.

It is vital that this positive media around females in sport continues beyond the Olympics. This can be achieved through brand sponsorships and endorsements which will help to embed female role models in sport and create a cultural change around behaviours and perceptions of females in sport. As perfectly put by The Federation of Irish Sport ‘if she can’t see it, then she can’t be it’.

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