FEMININE sports like Zumba and cheerleading should be offered to more women in a bid to narrow the gender gap in sport, the minister for sport and equality has suggested.
Helen Grant said women should be given “what they want” when it comes to sport and not forced to take part in football or swimming, adding that they can still look “absolutely radiant”.
She made the comments to The Daily Telegraph in an interview about how to increase the number of women taking part in sport, highlighting that 1.8 million more men than women play sport regularly.
“[Women] don’t have to feel unfeminine,” she said.
“There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.
“We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them.
“Whether it’s a Zumba class or a game of rounders after they’ve dropped the kids off. That’s the approach we need to take - what works for them.”
Speaking of a recent YMCA rollerblading event for girls aged between seven and 17 she said: “Those girls arrived and they looked absolutely gorgeous.
“They were wearing their socks pulled up, beautiful socks with sequins and their hair was done. But my goodness they could skate.”
Ms Grant added that the media needs to increase its coverage of female sport and businesses also need to offer support through sponsorship.
“I think we need to get to the point where women’s sport is looked on and regarded as equal to the men’s game. When we get to that point that’s when we get the balanced coverage,” she said.
Her comments have been criticised by anti-sexism campaigners as “discouraging” at a time when female Olympians are leading the glory for Britain at the Sochi games.
Lizzy Yarnold, 25, won the country’s first gold medal at the Winter Olympics in the skeleton while Jenny Jones took a bronze in snowboard slopestyle and so did the female curling team.
The project’s founder Laura Bates said: “It’s really the wrong approach to suggest that the only way for women to get involved in sports is to be girlie and feminine.
“It’s actually discouraging for a minister to say this.
“With our great athletes performing fantastically at the Olympics, we still see media outlets focusing on the looks and femininity, which the comments seem to do too.”
However Ms Grant later added on Twitter that she “was making the point that there is a sport or type of physical activity out there for all women”.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the minister did not suggest women’s participation in sport should be based on looks.
“The point is that there is a sport or physical activity out there for all women. For some it will be tennis or football, for others judo or dance. Women decide what they want to do based on their interests and own lives and that choice is up to them.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Sport and Fitness, said she had no problem with cheerleading being introduced in schools.
“I think there should be loads of choice. Girls participate in different ways and there’s loads of pressure on them to look a certain way and I think there are lots of things we can do to encourage them,” she said.
“A sexualisation of women in sport still exists. Many of the ways women are still talked about in sport is about the way they look. Men don’t have these associations - they are not described as ‘plain’ or ‘pretty’.
“I don’t care what girls do as long as they are taking part in some form of activity.”Tim Woodhouse, head of policy at the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, said: “We’re not concerned with definitions of what people find feminine or not. We’re concerned with getting more girls into sport.”Only 8% of 14-year-olds are doing recommended activity levels, and that’s the crucial point. That means we need schools and community centres to provide a widest possible range of activity to appeal to girls. For some, that is cheerleading, for others it is much more competitive sports like football and cricket.””Our research shows that 51% of girls say that PE and school sport currently puts them off being physically active. It is crucial we address this and we are pleased to see that the Sports Minister agrees with us that girls need to be offered a variety of activities in school.”A number of prominent British sportswomen have been victims of public abuse about their body image.
Double Olympic gold medallist Rebecca Adlington has commented on feeling insecure about her body and was seen breaking down in tears on ITV show I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!.
Baroness Grey-Thompson added: “The abuse Rebecca Adlington received was vile. If you think that this was Britain’s most successful swimmer ever, the way she has been spoken about is vicious.”
Gymnast Beth Tweddle was also the target of cyberbullies who made comments about her looks, including phrases such as “pig ugly” during a Twitter question and answer session with Sky Sports. Tweddle described the remarks as “horrible”, saying: “It’s not the first time it’s happened to me and they always go for my looks.”
Ms Grant made headlines last year when she failed to answer any questions correctly in a sports quiz posed by ITV Meridian.
The MP for Maidstone failed to name the Wimbledon champion, FA Cup winners, or England’s rugby union captain, scoring zero out of a possible five.