Commonwealth Games News
Last Updated: 01/06/22 7:04pm
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
There are 240 statues of sportspeople in the UK – but only three are of female athletes.
Former England footballer Lily Parr, two-time Wimbledon champion Dorothy Round, and Olympic pentathlon winner Lady Mary Peters’ achievements have been recognised. But countless others who have dominated their respective fields – such as Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Dame Laura Kenny and Paula Radcliffe – have not. Why is that?
A Sky Sports News investigation has found the lack of female statues can be put down to discrimination within specific sports, the headstart some men’s sport has had in comparison to women’s and generating the cost to fund the statue sculpting.
Statue expert from The Sporting Statues Projects Dr Christopher Stride said: “It’s a combination of the general discrimination against women in sports over the years and the sorts of sports they’ve been most discriminated in and the sorts of sports where you’re more likely to get statues.”
Sky Sports News met with the only living female sports athlete with a statue in the UK.
British gold medalist Lady Mary Peters discussed her feelings surrounding the achievement of her Olympic triumph in Munich 1972.
The pentathlon champion said of her victorious summer 50 years ago: “I did four personal bests in the pentathlon which has five events. I don’t know why I just performed out of my skin.”
Lady Mary was honoured with a statue in her home city of Belfast in 2013. Sir Sebastian Coe was in attendance and helped unveil the sculpture.
Overlooking the start of the 100-metre course at the Mary Peters track, the statue was created with podiums on either side of the figure.
Although a specialist in track and field, Lady Mary recognises the abundance of talent on display in women’s sport.
“Women’s sport is now being noticed and applauded much better… it used to be eight pages in the newspaper and four lines about women’s sport,” she said.
“Don’t forget that women are good at sports too; let’s honour the success and inspire the next generation to take up sport.”
Of the three female sporting statues, Peters was the only sportswoman knighted. “The only other known female statue in Belfast is Queen Victoria,” she said.
The Return of Dorothy Round statue was unveiled in 2013, to honour English tennis player Dorothy Round.
Round won Wimbledon singles titles in 1934 and 1937, and the mixed doubles in 1934 and in 1935/36 after teaming up with Fred Perry.
The Black Country native was the first woman from overseas to win the Australian Open Tennis Championships in 1935 and is referred to as “A daughter of Dudley” by the town’s Mayor Anne Millward.
The iconic statue can be found in her hometown of Dudley, Priory Park.
Dr Stride said of the reasons for the disparity in the number of male and female sporting statues in the UK: “The sports that have the most statues are team sports, particularly football. In these team sports, women have suffered the most discrimination over the years.
“In comparison to individual sports like tennis or athletics where women have been discriminated against, it’s not to the extent as their involvement in team sports has been diminished.
“Looking at sports such as tennis, around the world half the statues are of women. Which reflects the fact that in sports where women have competed in their own tournament alongside men they are celebrated.
“So where women get the opportunity to play the sport professionally they are just as likely to get a statue as men are, it’s their discrimination from the sports where they’re more likely to get a statue count against them.”
The cost of sculpting statues is also a contributing factor. The rate at which funds are gathered tends to depend on the popularity of the athlete and the generosity of donors.
Lady Mary said she “spent so long collecting the money for it [the statue] to be built”.
The designer of the Round statue, Steve Field told Sky Sports News: “The budget for this came from the Heritage Lottery Fund and was about £30,000 to do this bronze statue in 2013, which wouldn’t be enough today because the cost of metal has escalated since then.”
Dudley Mayor Councillor Millward puts the focus on governing bodies.
“Look at what your borough, what your area has produced and be proud of those people and what they’ve done within your community, and access the funding to celebrate them,” she said.
Regarded by some as the pioneer of women’s football, Lily Parr was honoured with a statue in the National Football Museum in Manchester.
With around 1,000 career goals and an instrumental part of the famous Dick, Kerr team in Preston, Parr is considered a trailblazer.
Parr played against both male and female teams and was reputedly known for having a harder shot than many male players.
Parr continued to play in the 1920s after the Football Association banned women from playing on their sports grounds, and she toured North America with the Dick, Kerr Ladies.
Former Arsenal forward Kelly Smith echoes the importance statues have on increasing curiosity and historical knowledge for the next generation.
“It’s about visibility,” Smith said. “Young girls seeing these statues and appreciating what those women have done for their sports, they can visibly see the statue, go away and research the sportswoman.”
Caroline Noakes, chair of the Women’s & Equality committee said: “Male sports have had far more prominence, and although it’s not direct discrimination, the reality is it’s very much indirect discrimination that women’s sports have not had the prominence that they deserve.
“You have to work for parity. In the same way I want to see a 50/50 parliament, I want to see 50 percent of our statues recognising female sporting achievement.”
©2022 Sky UK