A Yonder Whitepaper series


Break the mould

Using our nationally representative omnibus, we found that four of the UK’s most widely played (and spectated) sports were perceived as ‘more for men’ than for women. Rugby Union was perceived as ‘more for men’ by 58% of respondents. A similar perception was held for cricket, where half of all respondents (51%) held this view and, to a lesser degree, football and golf (37% and 33% respectively). Athletics, tennis and swimming were perceived as ‘equally for men and for women’ by the majority of participants while netball, as we might anticipate, was seen as ‘more for women’ by 68% of respondents.

When we break these figures down by gender, you might expect (or hope) to see a more positive picture for women. But that was not the case. Women were much more likely than their male counterparts to think that rugby union, cricket, football and golf were more for men than they were for women. But why is this? 

The following sections of this paper unpick five considerations that remain front-of-mind when determining women’s perceptions of, and ultimately their participation in, these popular sports. These five themes concern: media, tradition, stereotype, familiarity, and access – all of which taking hold at varying moments throughout a woman’s life. Overarching these issues, Yonder identified the single most common barrier to participation among adult women: body image.


Men’s sports fixtures continue to dominate peak viewing hours and channels. The majority of sports commentators are men.


Deeply engrained tradition influences perceptions of classical sports – women worry if they will fit in.


From a young age, children’s behaviour is shaped by subliminal stereotyping inherent in products and clothing.


Associations of sports are guided near-exclusively by the habits of family and friends.


The diversity and density of sports clubs that cater to men and boys is clear. The same is not always true for women’s sports.

Let's talk about you.