The 6th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport was held in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2014. The conference was attended by over 800 delegates from 100 different countries.
 
The Opening Ceremony
 
At the Opening Ceremony, the distinguished speakers conveyed a strong commitment to advancing women’s sport and striving for gender parity. The speakers included President Tarja Halonen, Conference Patron and former President of the Republic of Finland; Mr Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
 
President Tarja Halonen:

'We can improve sport, and the world, by empowering women in sport. Sport is a human right, and it’s a language that everyone speaks. Sport can teach us vital life skills, such as leadership. Sport can empower us to be the best we can be.'
 
'Sport might be one of the few channels in struggling nations for women to empower themselves.'

Thomas Bach:
 
'Great progress has been made regarding women and sports. For instance, boxing was included in the London Olympics, and ski jump for women in Sochi this year. The next logical step would be to have Nordic combined for women.'
 
'To make real progress in our quest for gender equality and for open access to physical activity for women and girls worldwide, we need closer collaboration with governments, educational institutions, and the private sector.'
 
'It is not enough for countries to send women to the Olympics if there are still women across the world who don't have the opportunity to play sport every day.'
 
'We are committed to increasing female participation in sport in Africa by 50%'
 
Sir Philip Craven:
 
'Women have a significant role to play in sport at all levels, as athletes, coaches, officials and leaders. Women see things differently to men, and through the IPC’s Women in Sport Committee we aim to ensure greater gender equality across all the Paralympic Movement.'
 
Three new Brighton Declaration signatories
 
Just in advance of the opening of the conference, three international sports organizations signed the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport: the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (ICSD), The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and the International Council for Coaching Excellence (ICCE). The Brighton Declation was launched at the first IWG conference - held in Brighton in 1994 - and, to date, 419 organizations have signed it. The Declaration contains the guiding principles of advancing women’s and girls’ participation at all levels of sport and physical activity.
 
Plenary sessions, parallel sessions and posters
 
The three-day conference featured some fascinating, inspiring and thought-provoking sessions and posters.
 
The highlights for Support through Sport UK included Dr Fiona Bull's evidence-based presentation on the consequences and solution to public inactivity. Dr Bull, Professor of Physical Activity and Public Health at the University of Western Australia, shared the concern of many researchers and health officials of physical inactivity having become a global challenge, if not a pandemic. Research and studies conducted over several decades have consistently provided evidence tha physical activity having a positive effect on an individual´s life. Yet, as the wealth increases in the world, physical activity seems to be decreasing, with about one third of the world's population being inactive. In her presentation, Dr Bull identified different solutions to address the issue of global inactivity. Her recommendations included public education about the benefits of a physically active life and community programs that support physically active lives and make sports open for all.
 
Another highlight was the talk from Ms Kalyani Subramanyam of The Naz Foundation India Trust, whose previous experiences had indicated that simply educating girls about HIV was not enough: they continued to test positive. Therefore, the Foundation decided that prevention needed to be addressed in a different way; that girls needed to be provided with a dynamic medium in order for the message to hit home. This was done through sport ...

A project called Goal was launched that introduced Indian girls to netball (netball being chosen because of its image as a girls-only sport (hence the best starting point)). Besides providing girls with a forum for participation, the activity teaches key life skills, such as how to say no to unwanted marriages and how to negotiate having an education. According to Ms Subramanyam, the project has had positive impacts on the community, helping the girls to gain a greater understanding of, and respect for, their own bodies. 'Free movement has enabled them to stand tall and make informed choices,' she said. 'The key has been to get females involved by providing them with activities and access to safe spaces, where they can work on building their self-esteem and developing leadership skills. All of which will benefit them in the future.'
 
It was also inspiring to meet US Paralympian Muffy Davis and hear about her achievements and her road to success.
 
The poster sessions gave Support through Sport UK a great opportunity to network and make some productive links. It was interesting to see a poster by the Women Sport and Fitness Foundation UK that revealed that, of all UK sports coverage, only 7% relates to women's sport. Surely one surefire way to get more UK girls and women into sport would be to feature more female sports coverage?
 
For more information on the conference, please contact us.