Redressing the gender balance in sport

The underrepresentation of women leaders in sport is stark with sport leadership and governance roles continuing to be male dominated.  In a research report for UK Sport about female representation and policy in international sport governance, it was revealed that just 7% of international sport organisations had female representation across the highest governance positions and 21% female representation across the highest leadership positions (Matthew & Piggott, 2021). Often this is due to traditional and historically unchallenged selection processes and organisational cultures within sport. Many of these organisations do not have gender related or equality focused policies to address the issue of gender balance and as such there is a continued reinforcement of gender inequity in sport leadership.

In the last few years, I have been involved in a project which has been engaging individuals and organisations across Europe to understand and challenge the persistence of gender inequality in sport. It is well understood that there are many inequalities in sport, but this research project had a focus on sport governance and leadership and to consider the implications for a sustainable future in sport. Why might you think this is important, given that there are many other pressing issues facing sport? Well, to get a level playing field where everyone can fully participate in sport, those in leadership and governance positions need to action good governance to redress the balance…. there needs to be a disruption to the way sport is run and organised.

To address the exiting gender gap in sport leadership, the GETZ project ( set out to create an educational platform to upskill and develop knowledge in relation to gender inequity in sport. Anybody can access the course online for free. The platform is called a Massive Open Online Course or MOOC and is designed for anyone to join, read, get involved and educate themselves on various issues related to leadership, media, sport events and so on. The challenge has been to find out whether there has been any actionable change from having this educational platform available and whether younger generations such as Gen Z (anyone born after 1997 but before 2015) want to disrupt the status quo in sport.

As part of the Women in Sport and Exercise Network Conference held online during May 2021, the GETZ project team presented several perspectives on the challenges to create lasting change for gender equality in sport.  Evidence was shared regarding the lack of understanding of the role of governance, law, and leadership in sport from those who had taken part in the MOOC (Renfree, Jones & Burgess, 2022), as well as the paradoxical resistance to changing systems or policies to ensure equity in sport (Schaillée et al, 2021).

Currently, I am involved in the final evaluation of the GETZ project, which will be presented at the upcoming Women in Sport and Exercise Network Conference (2023). The evaluation primarily focuses on two areas: whether knowledge and awareness of gender inequality in sports leadership motivate participants to further their studies, and whether completing the MOOC empowers participants to alter their own behaviour and engage in sport governance or leadership roles. Preliminary results suggest that those who identified as women and completed the MOOC were more informed about inequalities in sport due to their experience of diverse sports content, including both men’s and women’s sports. In contrast, those participants who identified as male and completed the MOOC tended to be less aware of gender inequalities, as their experience of sport was predominantly centred around men’s sport. In addition to this, participants reflected on their personal experiences of sport and acknowledged the significant influence of their family and educational background on their perceptions of gender equity in sport. The preliminary findings clearly indicate that further work is needed in the area of gender equity in sport governance and leadership. It is through active participation and collective effort that we should continue to address gender inequality in sport and create positive lasting change.

Note: The Women in Sport and Exercise Network Conference was held at the University of Worcester in 2021. The conference summary and abstracts from the event have been recently published online in the Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, allowing anyone to access and engage with the ongoing research projects.  The conference featured keynote presentations by notable speakers, and prizes were awarded to recognise outstanding contributions.   


Matthews, J. & Piggott, L. (2021) ’Is gender on the international agenda?  Female representation and policy in international sport governance’. Final Report March 2021.

Renfree, G., Burgess, B. & Jones, V. (2022) ‘’Educating Generation Z about issues relating to Gender Equality in the governance and leadership of sport in the UK. In: Gender Equity in UK Sport Leadership and Governance. Emerald Studies in Sport and Gender. Emerald Publishing Limited. pp. 217-232.

Schaillée, H., Derom, I, Solenes, O., Straume, S., Burgess, B., Jones, V. & Renfree, G. (2021)’Gender inequality in sport: perceptions and experiences of generation Z’. Sport, Education and Society, 26 (9). pp. 1011-1025. www.

Gillian Renfree, Senior Lecturer Sport Management. School of Sport & Exercise Science

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