The first gold medal awarded in the Commonwealth Games went to a woman, the England tri-athlete Jodie Stimpson. Her race ended with an exciting finish when she held off a challenge from a Canadian athlete. Women athletes are competing at the Games at the highest levels in athletics, judo, swimming and other sports.
But once the Commonwealth Games are over, sports media coverage is 95% about sportsmen and only 5% about sportswomen. Most of the time girls see very few sportswomen acting as role models for them.
Nationally, 40% of men take part in sport or physical activity once a week but only 30% of women do so. This gap is worse in Salford, with the percentage of men taking part being nearly the national average but the percentage of women being lower, at 24%.
This is important because lack of physical activity causes ill health and early death. In Salford hundreds of early deaths could be avoided by increasing levels of physical activity.
A cross-party group of MPs has held an inquiry into women and sport and made some important recommendations on what they found. Their report mentions that lack of participation in sport by girls and women is not just due to a lack of interest but due to many other barriers.
Many girls are put off taking part in sport by negative experiences in PE lessons while they are at school. The report says that schools should be more imaginative in the range of sport and physical activity they offer to girls. Another barrier is lack of sports facilities available near to where people live or work. A project in Bury which has been given funding to increase sports participation among girls and women is installing extra outdoor gyms and mobile pools and modernising changing rooms.
I want to see these barriers overcome so that girls and women have the same opportunities to take part in sports and physical activity as men and receive the same coverage and support. This would bring health benefits and help us to develop future female Commonwealth gold medal winners from Salford.