British Cycling has announced today that a staggering 254,000 more women are cycling regularly than two years ago.
The news comes as the sporting body reflects on a pledge made in March 2013 to get 1,000,000 more women cycling by 2020. And it certainly looks like they are on track to hit the ambitious target.
The progress is largely due to the Breeze programme which delivers thousands of women-only recreation rides with the aim of breaking down the barriers for entry into the sport and ensuring that women partake in the sport long term.
Speaking at the press conference to announce the increase in participation was Lisa O’Keefe from Sport England. She highlighted the disparities still existing in sport – 2 million fewer women are taking part in sport than men in the UK and only one in four of the total people cycling are women. Clearly there is still a long way to go to bridge this gap.
But the wheels are in motion, thanks in a large part to Sport England and its commitment to women’s sport and its most recent #ThisGirlCan campaign.
Media coverage is also fundamental to success. Anna Thompson of the BBC highlighted that in 2014, the BBC were responsible for just 2% of the sport output on television yet accounted for 45% of all sport viewing. More importantly however is the fact that 30% of all sport on BBC television and the red button is women’s sport.
The BBC also provides practical information encouraging people to get out there and get involved via its participation pages, which is crucial. Media coverage is one thing, but O’Keefe hit the nail on the head as she outlined the need to remove the main barriers for entry into the sport: “Taking part in sport is that complex blend of barriers and motivations. When it comes to cycling there are some very practical barriers like the cost of the gear and equipment and safety on the roads. But there are also some emotional and psychological barriers, women thinking they are just not sporty – that’s something that really fit people do or middle aged blokes, or look at the kit, I am going to look terrible in that kit and that’s if it even comes in my size.”
While we might not be seeing a direct 50:50 split, it seems the tide is certainly changing and positive steps are being made. The unanimous conclusion at today’s press conference was the importance of normalising cycling, improving road safety and shining a light on all the women and girls who are cycling in a hope that in 2020 we will all be celebrating British Cycling’s ambitious target of seeing 1,000,000 more women on bikes in the UK.