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Women in Sport

Current state

The AusPlay Survey (AusPlay) is a large scale national population tracking survey funded and led by Sport Australia that tracks Australian sport and physical activity participation behaviours to help inform investment, policy and sport delivery.

Some key insights from the most recent survey results include:

Participation

Women (15+)

83.9% participate at least 1x per week in sport and physical activities
65.4% participate 3x per week in sport and physical activities
50.1% of women do at least some sport related activities
40.3% participate in non-sport related activities only

Girls (under 15)

61.1% participate at least 1x per week in organised (out of school hours) physical activities
22.8% participate 3x per week in organised (out of school hours) physical activities
72.2% of participating girls do at least some sport related activities

Non-playing roles (15+ only)

14.4% of women (over the age of 15) participate in a non-playing role in sport

The most common roles are:
- coach/instructor/trainer
- official
- administrator/committee member

Activities

Top activities (women)
  1. Walking (Recreational)
  2. Fitness/Gym
  3. Swimming
  4. Athletics (includes jogging and running)
  5. Yoga
  6. Cycling
  7. Bush walking
  8. Pilates
  9. Netball
  10. Tennis
Top activities (girls)
  1. Swimming
  2. Dancing (recreational)
  3. Gymnastics
  4. Netball
  5. Football/soccer
  6. Basketball
  7. Athletics (includes jogging and running)
  8. Tennis
  9. DanceSport
  10. Karate

Access to resources
Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Additional resources

AusPlay Survey (AusPlay). Updated data is provided annually in April and October. Some key reports relating to women and girls based on AusPlay data include:

  • AusPlay Focus: Women and Girls ParticipationAustralian Sports Commission, (November 2017). This publication delves into the participation of Australian women and girls in sport and physical activity, and the difference between male and female patterns of behaviour. It uses AusPlay data collected from July 2016 to June 2017. The data demonstrates that women are girls and women are just as active as boys and men. However, they are more likely to participate in non-sport related physical activity, and less likely to participate in sport-related activities, particularly club based sport. The key motivators for women to be active are physical health, fun, and socialising. Sports can use this information to potentially target future products more effectively to women and girls. The research also showed that parenthood affects many parents active lifestyles - particularly when children are younger. This effect is evident for both parents.
  • AusPlay Participation data for the sport sector: Summary of key national findings October 2015 to September 2016 data, and ebook versionAustralian Sports Commission (2016). Information was collected on 20,021 adults (15 years and over) and 3,849 children (5-14 years) over the period from October 2015 to September 2016. Although the AusPlay survey is ongoing, some insights are emerging about the similarities and differences of participation preferences by gender. 69% of children (i.e. under the age of 15) participated in some form of organised sport or physical activity outside of school hours, but only 19% of children are active at least three or more times per week in activities outside of school hours. Participation rates for boys and girls in physical activities were similar, but boys are more likely to participate in club sports than girls, across all age-groups. While sport remains an important form of physical activity throughout life, non-sport related physical activity becomes more important (i.e. in terms of frequency of participation) as we age. Overall, 87% of adults participated in some form of sport or physical activity during the previous 12 months. Generally, there is a decline in the sport participation rate among adults in successive age-groups. Women are more likely to participate in sport or physical activity for physical and mental health reasons and to lose or maintain weight. Men are more motivated by fun/enjoyment and social reasons.
  • AFL attracts world’s highest percentage of female supporters to live sports, Peter Rolfe, Herald Sun, (9 June 2019). Global research of footy fans found that 41 per cent of AFL fans at games were female, compared to 38 per cent of NRL, 25 per cent of English Premier League and 35 per cent of NFL supporters.
  • AFLW inspires more women to play Australian Football, Roy Morgan, (22 March 2019). Over 550,000 Australian women now play one of the four main football codes. The success of the AFLW in encouraging women and girls to play Australian Football is evident by the growth in female participation in Australian Football over the last year up by 21,000 to 176,000 women.
  • Female esports in "terrible state", says Team Vitality CEOMinistry of Sport, (November 2019). Speaking before the Formula One Esports Pro Series final, Maurer said female representation in esports is in a terrible state and everyone involved in the esports ecosystem is challenged with creating the right structure to grow female engagement in professional gaming.
  • Females and esports progress update, interpret, (21 February 2019). Female eSports watchers have a 30% share compared to all eSports watchers; however, it has consistently gained gender share nearly every quarter since 2016. with a total growth of 6% over the last 2 years. Of those that play games considered an eSport on Console/PC, only 35% are female, of those that consider themselves eSports watchers, 30%, and of those that watch eSports leagues, 20%. Casual Gaming, however (defined as those who log many hours on mobile and few on PC/Console) is dominated by females (66%).
  • GO! Run: Closing the gender gap in girls’ participation in sport and physical activity, Hayley Degaust, WellSpring, (1 May 2019). There are many challenges girls can face when trying to participate in sport and physical activity that have contributed to a decline in their participation. GO! Run is a free, running program for girls only, developed to increase girls’ participation in physical activity opportunities by breaking down some the many barriers.
  • Gym harassment: how sexism, stalking and surveillance stop women working out, Sirin Kale, The Guardian, (3 February 2020). Last week the story of one woman’s harassment went viral, after her gym responded dismissively. Here, others speak out about the unwanted attention they have received
  • Insufficient physical activity: web reportAustralian Institute of Health and Welfare, (19 July 2019). Participating in regular physical activity provides many benefits for physical and mental health at all ages, and can also help manage biomedical risk factors such as high body weight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor contributing to disease burden in Australia. Highlights that women were more likely than men to be insufficiently active (59% compared to 50%) and also less likely to do muscle strengthening activities on two or more days per week (22% women and 25% men) and less likely to meet both physical activity and muscle strengthening guidelines (17% men; 14% women).
  • Suncorp Australian Youth & Confidence Research 2019Suncorp Australia, (May 2019). In 2017, Suncorp partnered with Netball Australia to launch Team Girls, an initiative to build a nation of confident girls in sport. This movement was a response to the 2017 Suncorp Australian Youth and Confidence Research. In 2019 they conducted the same research again. The results indicated that Australian girls aged 11-17 are significantly less active than boys the same age, less likely to play sport, and more likely to stop playing sport. 1 in 3 girls stopped playing sport because they thought they weren't good at it but many also felt that sport could make them more confident. Parents also believed that sport is a key confidence booster for girls and admitted that their daughters were not doing enough physical activity. The influence of families and friends in supporting girls to be active was recognised by both parents and children.
  • Time to tackle the physical activity gender gapThe Lancet Public Health (editorial), Volume 4(8), (August 2019). Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases and can also negatively affect mental health and quality of life. WHO recognises physical inactivity as a serious and growing public health problem and aims to reduce it by 10% by 2025. An analysis published in The Lancet Global Health, in 2018, found that more than a quarter of adults globally are insufficiently physically active. Across most countries, women are less active than men (global average of 31·7% for inactive women vs 23·4% for inactive men). Policies that tackle the gender gap in physical activity could therefore have a substantial impact on overall population health.
  • Unleashing the Value of Women’s Sport Fact sheetNSW Office of Sport, (2017). Growing sport for girls makes good business sense. It also helps address the gender imbalance in sport participation and contributes to improving health, social and equality issues.
  • Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities, AustraliaAustralian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4901.0 (2013). In the 12 months prior to the survey, its estimated that 60% of all children aged 5 to 14-years participated in at least one organised sport activity outside of school hours. Among children (under the age of 15 years), participation in organised sport was higher among boys (67%) than among girls (54%) and the participation rate varied across the States and Territories. The most popular sports for girls were netball, swimming, gymnastics, football (soccer) and basketball. Among boys the most popular sports were football (soccer), swimming, Australian football, basketball and cricket.
  • Getting girls active: Reducing gender inequality in physical activity, Dr Simon Sebire, Professor Russ Jago, Kate Banfield and Professor Angie Page, University of Bristol, Policy Report 11/2017, (2017). Most girls are less active than boys from childhood to adolescence. Creative and concerted efforts are needed to directly address this gender gap. Our research shows that peers, parents, active travel to school and after-school clubs hold promise to help girls become and stay active.
  • Girls and Young Women ProfileSport New Zealand, (2018). The information in this resource is based on national and international evidence. It is intended to be a starting point to help organisations better understand the experiences and needs of girls and young women. We recognise that the category of girls and young women aged 10–18 includes many diverse individuals with different and evolving needs. Therefore, the high-level themes identified in this resource won’t be true for all girls and young women in this category all the time. We encourage organisations to build on the knowledge in this resource within their own context, to better understand the specifics of the girls and young women they are targeting.
  • National Health Survey: First Results, 2017-18 (4364.0.55.001)Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2019). The 2017-18 National Health Survey is the most recent in a series of Australia-wide health surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The survey was designed to collect a range of information about the health of Australians, including: prevalence of long-term health conditions; health risk factors such as smoking, overweight and obesity, alcohol consumption and physical activity; and demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.. Includes physical activity data for men and women aged 18-64, including workplace physical activity (for the first time).
  • National Womensport and Recreation SurveyAustralian Womensport and Recreation Association (AWRA) (2007). The survey was conducted on behalf of the AWRA in response to the recommendations made in the Senate report ‘About time! Women in Sport and Recreation in Australia’. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of a range of issues in promoting the involvement and participation of females in sport.
  • Participation and non-participation of people with disability in sport and active recreationAustralian Sports Commission/University of Technology Sydney (2011). The participation rates of people with disability are significantly lower than that of the general population. On average, people with disability participate 15% less than the general population. Further, there are signifi cant differences between the genders, with men having a 55% participation rate as opposed to females, who had a 51% participation rate.
  • Participation in Sport and Physical Recreation, Australia, 2013-14Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4177.0 (2015). Analysis of data from the 2013-14 ABS Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS). Overall, an estimated 60% of the adult population (age 15-years and older) reported that they had participated in some form of sport or physical recreation; participation rate by gender was 61% (males) and 59% (females). The highest participation rate occurred among 15-17 year-olds (73.8%) and there was a general decline by age group to the 65-years and over (46.6%). The participation statistics for organised sport are much lower than participation in ‘sport (i.e. social sport) and physical recreation’ in general. The ABS reported that only 28.8% of Australian adults, 15 years and older, engaged in organised sport as a participant; the organised sport participation by gender was 28.8% (males) and 27.3% (females).
  • Perspectives on Sport – Women in Sport: the State of Play 2013 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue Number 4156.0.55.001 (June 2013). This report uses data from ABS surveys and the 2011 Census to provide a snapshot of women’s involvement in three general forms of sports engagement; playing, facilitating, and watching.  The report examines: (1) female participation in sport and physical activity - as players or taking part in some other physically active role, (2) female involvement in organised sport in a non-playing role, (3) females as spectators at sporting events, (4) female employment in sport, and (5) female volunteers in sport.  The report revealed that women’s participation was almost twice as great in non-organised activities as compared to sport and recreation activities delivered by a club or recreation association.  Of the 5.8 million females who participated in sport and physical recreation in the 12 months prior to the survey, over half (55% or 3.2 million) participated on average at least twice a week.  The data indicated that women who are socially or economically disadvantaged are less likely to engage in physical activities and are more likely to be sedentary in their leisure time.  There is a clear socio-economic gradient, and this is particularly evident in levels of education and income.  Females with advanced degrees or family income above the mean were more likely to participate in sport and active recreation.  In 2010, an estimated 343,100 females (4% of females over 15 years of age) were involved in organised sport or physical activities in a non-playing capacity only; and a further 391,600 were involved in both a playing and non-playing capacity.  Of those females involved in non-playing roles, 40% reported that they had completed a course or qualification relevant to their role.  Women accounted for approximately 37% of spectators at sporting events.  There were large differences in spectator attendance by age-group, with 54% of females age 15-17 years attending and less than 20% of women over the age of 65 attending a sporting event.  According to the 2011 Census, 40,244 females were employed in sport and physical recreation occupations in Australia, an increase of 31% from the 2006 Census.  The most popular vocations for women were ‘fitness instructor’ and ‘swimming coach or instructor’.
  • Press for Progress Report 2018/19: to be the leading sport for women and girlsCricket Australia, (2019). Second annual report relating to the aspiration 'to be the leading sport for women and girls', set out in the Australian Cricket Strategy 2017-2022. In the past 12 months, important gains continue to be made: most notably, the sustained growth of girls participation and all-girls teams, the ongoing transition to a standalone Women's Big Bash League, and improved gender diversity within the governance of Australian Cricket.
  • Sport participation rates - aggregation of 12 sports, Victoria 2017: A report prepared for Sport and Recreation Victoria and VicHealth through the Sport Participation Research ProgramVicHealth, Federation University, Victoria University, Sport & Recreation Spartial, (May 2019). This report provides the results of an analysis of participation during 2017 in Victorian club-based sport. It combines data from Victorian State Sporting Associations (SSAs) for 12 major sports: Australian Football League, Basketball, Bowls, Cricket, Football (Soccer), Golf, Gymnastics, Hockey, Netball, Sailing, Swimming, and Tennis. Key results relating to female participation include: 
    • Participation rates were higher for males than females in all age groups (Figure 2). Overall, the male participation rate (20.3%) was approximately double that of the female (10.6%);
    • The largest difference in participation rates was for the 5-9 and 10-14 year age groups. Male participation rate for ages 5-9 (67.1%) female (45.5%) and for ages 10-14 years males (79.3%) and females (55.0%).
    • While the participation rates beyond age 19 were much lower, the difference between male and female participation rates was proportionally greater, with the male rates being more than double the female rates in all age groups.
    • Notwithstanding the large discrepancies between rates of participation, the profile across the lifespan was similar for both males and females.
  • Women and Girls in Sport, Active Recreation and Physical activity - A Participation Review, Reece, LJ., Foley, BC., McInerney, C., Bellew, B., Bauman, AE., SPRINTER Group, University of Sydney, (2017). The purpose of this report is to provide strategic guidance for increasing participation in women and girls across the lifecourse, in sport, active recreation and physical activity. This encapsulates all-encompassing movement that is delivered through the sport and active recreation sector. Critically though, no single domain, policy or program will, in isolation, deliver sufficiently meaningful increases in participation at population level; a comprehensive, multifaceted and multisector approach is necessary.
  • Women's participation in sport and physical activitiesAustralian Bureau of Statistics, (2006). This paper presents findings relating to the participation of women in sports and physical activity. The results are based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2002 General Social Survey and the 2003 Survey of Children's Participation in Selected Cultural and Leisure Activities together with two papers presented at the 2005 National Physical Activity conference and the 2005 Sports Management Association of Australia and New Zealand annual conference.
  • Gender and age inequalities in regular sports competition: a cross-national study of 25 European countries, vanTuyckom C, Scheerder J, and Bracke P, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 28(10), pp.1077-84, (2010). This article provides a unique opportunity to compare gender inequalities in sports participation across Europe, and the extent to which this varies by age using large, cross-sections of the population. The Eurobarometer Survey 62.0 (carried out in 2004 at the request of the European Commission and covering the adult population of 25 European member states, N = 23,909) was used to analyse differences in regular sports participation by gender and by age in the different countries. For the majority of countries, the occurrence of regular sporting activity was less than 40%. Additionally, binary logistic regression analyses identified significant gender differences in sports participation in 12 countries. In Belgium, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Spain, and the UK, men were more likely to report being regularly active in sports than women, whereas in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands the opposite was true. Moreover, the extent to which these gender inequalities differ by age varies considerably across countries. The results imply that: (i) in some European countries more efforts must be undertaken to promote the original goals of the Sport for All Charter, and (ii) to achieve more female participation in sports will require different policy responses in the diverse European member states.
  • Longitudinal Trends in Sport Participation and Retention of Women and Girls, Rochelle Eime, Jack Harvey, Melanie Charity and Hans Westerbeek, Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, (16 April 2020). Overall 15% of the participants in the particular sport that was the subject of this study played continuously for 7 years. Retention, as defined by three different criteria, was consistently highest for those within the 4–9 year age group. There was a high percentage of people who played this sport, dropped-out and then returned. Further breakdown of ages demonstrated that an optimal starting age for participation in this sport, from the perspective of longevity or retention in the sport, may be 6–9 years. Consideration needs to be given to the age appropriateness of sports programs for very young participants. Strategies specifically relating to retention of girls and young women during adolescence should be developed.
  • The implications of female sport policy developments for the community-level sport sector: a perspective from Victoria, Australia, M. Casey, J. Fowlie, M. Charity, J. Harvey & R. Eime, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, Volume 11(4), pp.657-678, (2019). This study examined trends in sport participation among females over a six-year period (2011–2016) within five popular sports, by age and region. It also identified future challenges community sports face in increasing female sport participation. Results showed that female sport participation levels increased over the six-year period, with greater proportional increases among the youngest age group (4–9 years) – the common entry age into the organised sport through modified sports programs. Retention of females in sport throughout adolescence and adulthood remains a challenge. Community-level sports face challenges to accommodate growth in female sport participation in terms of availability and quality of sport infrastructure and volunteer capacity – both human resources to deliver sport and organisational capacity to devise and implement strategies to recruit and retain females. They also face challenges associated with the social construction of gender within sport and club environments. Sport policies that encourage female sport participation need to also consider the supply of sport such as maximising infrastructure usage, gender equity facility usage policies and developing volunteer capacity.
  • No boundaries for women and girls in sport and physical activityAustralian Women in Sport Advisory Group, (2019). Our vision is that there are no boundaries for women and girls in sport and physical activity. Our goal is to achieve this by 2025. But what does it look like and how will we know when we have made it? Here we set out what we are striving for, actions to take and measures of success. Key members of the sport sector, governments and industry are onboard.
  • Time for Action: first ever UEFA women's football strategy launchedUEFA, (17 May 2019). UEFA has launched a dedicated women's football strategy for the first time, aiming to double number of female players in Europe by 2024.

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