On Sunday a staggering 17 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the Lionesses beat Germany to secure the Women’s European Cup – finally bringing football home! I want to say a massive congratulations to the team for their incredible performances over the past few weeks, which saw them score an impressive 23 goals along the way! The team really did the country proud, and it was amazing to see so many people get behind the team and spur them on.
I have always advocated for the power of sport to change lives - not just to keep people fit and active, but to build confidence, practice teamwork and acquire leadership skills. Not only is sport entertaining and exciting to watch, but it can also inspire. What often begins by participating for fun at grassroots level, can develop to performing at the highest level – as we have seen with the Lionesses, as well as the fantastic performances at the Commonwealth games from the likes of Laura Kenny and Adam Peaty.
We do need to improve on the number of young people engaging in sport and exercise. Research by Sport England showed that 2.1 million children and young people (29%) are doing fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day – so anything that inspires children to be more active can only be a good thing.
There are many ways we can facilitate this - for example, when it comes to local planning, I am keen to ensure that new developments all have useable open spaces so children of all ages can run around and be active. I have also been vocal in Parliament about ensuring that local schools can be made available outside of school hours to teams & groups wanting to put on constructive activities for young people.
The added attention that the Lionesses’ success has given to women’s sport is also very important. According to Sport England, less than a third of 17–18-year-old girls say they are sporty, compared to just under two thirds of boys. Hopefully, the sight of Leah Williamson lifting the trophy in front of 81,000 people at Wembley will inspire more girls to take up football (or other sports) and lay the foundation for even more sporting success in the future. I understand that girls football teams across the country have already seen a sharp increase in the number of girls interested in joining, which is great to hear.
As an MP, I work to support many local groups and organisations, as well as engaging with national sporting bodies such as Sport England. Earlier this week, I visited Draycott Sports Camp, a fantastic local organisation providing sporting activities for children throughout the summer holidays.
We must do all we can to improve opportunities for clubs, coaches, and the amazing volunteers who support them. Providing such opportunities is one of the reasons I host my annual Summer Activities Fair, as it gives these local groups the opportunity to showcase what they are doing and attract new members.
My wife was a footballer, she never imagined that it would ever be possible for a woman’s game to sell out Wembley and attract so many viewers. As a father of daughters, I am so glad that this can now be a reality, and not just a distant dream.