‘It can be hostile’: Edinburgh Uni’s female sports presidents on being a woman in sport

‘Women are made to see exercise as a way of being thinner rather than for team sports, comradery and the general fun of it’

Although there’s no lack of successful female athletes, women’s sports have long been overshadowed by men’s teams on a global scale. I spoke to three female presidents of Edinburgh University women’s sports teams to find out why they think people care less about women’s sports and what it’s like to run a sports team. Meet Jemma, Philine and Ellie.

Jemma is a fourth year student studying English Literature and started Edinburgh University Women’s Flag Football team last year after frustrations at being one of the only girls on the mixed American Football team.

Philine is also a fourth year student, studying Biotechnology and ran for president of Edinburgh University Women’s Football team because she wanted to help develop the club after the increase in its members due to the women’s world cup.

Ellie, a fourth year student studying Landscape architecture, became president of Edinburgh University Women’s Hockey team in order to help make the sports world inclusive to all who want to participate.

What do you think is the biggest barrier for entry for women in sport?

Philine: “For football specifically, there are now a fair few teams in Scotland, but most of them are not open to beginners or to players who don’t want to play competitively. Whilst more and more opportunities are being created/promoted for young girls and at schools, inclusive/welcoming spaces in football for women trying to become more active later in life are still lacking.”

Jemma: “I think that women are made to see exercise as a way of being thinner rather than for team sports, comradery and the general fun of it”

Ellie: “I personally think the thing that puts most people off playing sport is the potential fear of being judged for not being good enough or that they won’t fit in. Especially when at university, there are so many people and different sports you can do it can be hard to know which to go for. In terms of hockey, as it is a sport most people played at school, it can be intimidating coming to trials and not knowing whether you’ll be the best or the worst. Which can often deter women’s from coming along.”

What made you want to apply for your position?

What made you want to apply for your position?

Jemma: “I’ve always been very athletic but I found it hard to play on a predominantly male team, my abilities were severely hindered as often the guys didn’t do the drills as intensely with me because I’m a girl. I often found myself getting only five minutes of game time being the smallest weakest player in a team of huge men. I also frequently felt like the men on my team felt a bit socially awkward with me being there which subsequently made me also feel quite uncomfortable.”

Ellie: “I wanted to apply for this role as I felt as though it would be a good opportunity in my last year of university to push myself into doing something that I wouldn’t have thought in my first year I would have ever been able to do. The role has already allowed me to meet so many more people throughout the club and the wider sporting network which has been one of the best parts of the role. I am also learning some valuable life lessons in time management, organisation, and dealing with difficult situations when they arise.”

How can the sports world be more inclusive of women’s sports?

Philine: “I think it’s all about creating more opportunities for women and girls to get involved in a safe environment. Quite a few of my teammates had to start out playing on boys’ teams because there wasn’t a girls’ team.”

Jemma: “The sports world can be a unwelcoming for women in so many ways. Even watching sports in pubs and bars can be a hostile environment for women.”

Ellie: “I think the sports world could be made more inclusive for women by lowering the expectations for players to compete and for it to instead have a focus around being fun and good for your fitness. We try throughout the hockey club to be as widely available for people of all abilities, by having a recreational team which people tend to join in small groups of friends of different abilities just so they can play together, as well as hosting beginners’ sessions. I also believe that the sports world is very male dominant which can often be off putting for women, by creating safe spaces for women to come and enjoy sport in an all-female setting is something I believe massively helps with the number of women we can get into sport!”

How did you get into your sport?

Philine: “My family have always been big fans of watching football, but I first started playing football only as a way to stay fit for another sport. I really enjoyed it and then fully committed to it once I came to uni and joined the club.”

Jemma: “I started watching American Football in 2017 as a way to bond with my brother, then in my second year (2021) when sports clubs and societies were up and running again post-covid, I decided to give it a go and went to rookie day”

Ellie: “I first started playing hockey when I was in secondary school. I found that although I wasn’t the best, I enjoyed the competitive team sport atmosphere. Hockey was something I enjoyed playing as if was a way of spending time with friends as well as exercising. Having played for semi competitive teams I never felt under lots of pressure to perform, it was always just a chance to have fun. Which is why when I came to university joining a hockey team was something I wanted to do.”

What do you hope to achieve through your position?

Philine: “I hope that I can help get more people involved in football while also supporting our competitive teams in improving to compete at the highest possible level.”

Jemma: “Since American Football and especially flag football aren’t as well known in the UK, I really want to help grow awareness of the sport since i’m so passionate about it! I want the team to be a safe space for women to explore the game in a non threatening environment where there’s not pressure to be amazing at it. It can even be stepping stone for women to potentially go into contact sports.”