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Problem Solved #14: Keeping women off the bench after an ‘invisible’ summer of sport

Problem Solved #14: Keeping women off the bench after an 'invisible' summer of sport

To mark the launch of our new manifesto – setting out The Drum’s editorial mission to help readers solve their problems – we’re christening today Solutions Day on thedrum.com. And to set the tone, over the course of 24 hours our team of worldwide journalists will be spotlighting 24 recent examples of times when our industry demonstrated its remarkable talent for solving problems.

Problem: In January 2020, the Women’s Sport Trust (WST) launched ‘Unlocked’ – a campaign backed by big brands such as Disney designed to amplify the achievements of women’s sport in the UK. Then lockdown happened, and put a pin in the organisation‘s best-laid plans.

Solution: As stadiums around the world fell silent in March, the Women’s Sport Trust found a space to tell the unique stories of athletes from a wide range of backgrounds and use a Zoom-led community of sport stars and brand leaders to drive change and hone individuals’ social media skills.

After enjoying a bumper summer in 2019, campaigners cautioned that the cancellation of women’s leagues and tournaments this year would lead to even greater inactivity among girls and that a decade of progress will be lost thanks to an “invisible summer”. However, for WST, this wasn‘t an option. Here‘s what you need to know:

  • A five-month-long ‘Unlocked‘ initiative from the charity (announced at the start of this year) had planned to pair 40 elite athletes from 24 sports with leading figures from the world of business, sport and the media.

  • Marketers from Disney, Sainsbury’s and Facebook signed up to be matched with sportswomen, including Rio Olympic hockey gold medallist Maddie Hinch; England and Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley; and Emily Defroand, a hockey player for Team England and Team GB.

  • But just as things were getting started, lockdown put a pin into WST’s best-laid plans.

  • Like their men’s counterparts, women’s games were halted, postponed or called off entirely. Vitality Netball superleague, cancelled. Women‘s Super League and Championship, cancelled. Women’s Champions League and the FA Cup, still to be concluded. Women’s Six Nations, paused. And, of course, Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, delayed.

  • Amid this, WST spotted an empty space among the noise to start telling more diverse sporting stories, pitching out women athletes to national newspapers and educating sports fans.

  • ‘Unlocked’ pivoted from its original form, with the programme’s athletes instead joining weekly Zoom meetings where they introduce themselves and support each other in boosting women‘s sport and developing storytelling skills to hone how they work with brands.

Zarah Al-Kudcy is head of commercial partnerships at Formula 1, as well as being a trustee at WST. Also a former marketer for the ICC Women’s World Cup and England Rugby, she argues that the charity-founded community will equip the athletes involved with the skills they need to work with brands and boost their profile.

“In the various sports I’ve worked in, there are assumptions athletes know what to do with social media and how to work with brands. Sometimes they don’t want to ask, so this scheme has broken down some of those barriers.”

Read more Problem Solved articles in our Solutions Day hub.

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