It goes without saying that sport in 2020 has looked (and felt) very different to its normal state of play. With major sporting events postponed or cancelled, fans banned from stadiums and leisure facilities closed, the sports sector has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, whilst the whole sector has undoubtedly been affected, women’s sport may end up being the biggest victim.

What’s the short-term impact?

With the first national lockdown in March, save for getting our solitary daily exercise, we saw a stop to all sport, regardless of gender. The Premier League season was paused, rugby games were suspended and international cricket came to a halt (to name but a few examples). This had a huge impact on sporting clubs, bodies and athletes.

As such, when the government announced that elite sport could continue during the second national lockdown in England (which is currently underway), it was welcome news to many. However, this is only the case where the sport meets the government’s “Elite sport return to training guidance”, which states, among other things, that training can only resume where there is proper medical supervision, regular screening for COVID-19 and access to personal protective equipment. For women’s clubs, who generally have fewer resources than men’s, meeting these guidelines has proved difficult. For example, many professional female football teams, including Brentford and QPR, are unable to train at the moment whilst their male counterparts have been able to continue. Unsurprisingly, many people are frustrated by this and the hashtag #IsItBecauseImAGirl was trending on Twitter recently.

What’s the long-term impact?

Longer-term, we might see the disproportionate impact on women’s sport worsen. Due to the exposure they receive, professional men’s teams in sports like football and rugby generate far more money than professional women’s teams in those areas. As such, when the COVID-19 pandemic is over and fans are allowed to return to stadiums, it is likely that most professional men’s teams will bounce back. However, the same might not be the case for women’s teams who cannot count on huge match day takings. The position is likely to be similar, or worse, for grass roots clubs who have even fewer resources.

Aside from the financial impact of coronavirus, women’s sport may also suffer from a recruitment and development perspective. With grass roots sports currently on pause and elite women’s teams struggling to meet the government’s guidelines in order to train, we may see a decline in the take up of sport by women. This could have an impact on women’s sport for years to come.

To find out more about the impact of COVID-19 on the sports sector, please read our report "Coronavirus: The Sports Perspective". If you or your organisation have any questions, please visit our website here, our get in touch with Hannah Clipston, Tom Barnard or Naomi Findlay.