Home News Trailblazing women join programme working to change gender-imbalance in sport

Trailblazing women join programme working to change gender-imbalance in sport

  • Women’s Sport Leadership Academy works to empower a new generation of leaders to reach highest jobs in sport
  • Programme has helped nearly 400 women from 60 countries worldwide since it was established in 2014 at University of Chichester
  • Recent research by UK Sport revealed that women leaders make up just 22 per cent of the top roles in international sport


RISING stars from across the sporting world have completed a pioneering programme in the UK which is working to address the gender-imbalance in global sports leadership.

The Women’s Sport Leadership Academy, known as WSLA, was established in 2014 to provide development opportunities for women leaders worldwide to take the lead and make an impact. It follows a report from UK Sport which revealed that female leaders only make up 22 per cent of the top jobs in international sport – including Olympic and Paralympic organisations.

The week-long WSLA initiative, led by the University of Chichester, returned this year for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and was attended by 21 trailblazers based in nine nations.

Co-organiser and Reader in Physical Education Dr Suzie Everley said: “WSLA was created to make a fundamental difference in sport, to address inequality at the top, and to give women a platform where they make an impact worldwide.”

The WSLA programme, developed with coaching specialists Leading Edge, encourages fresh thinking and helps attendees enhance and reflect on their leadership identities to grow a strategic vision through training and mentoring sessions. Participants this year were let by the UK’s national storytelling laureate Katrice Horsley.

Since its launch eight years ago, the residential has helped nearly 400 people from 63 countries, and was recognised by the International Olympic Committee in its gender equality report. Among this year’s group was Alyazia Sultan Al Suwaidi, from the Sharjah Women’s Sports Organisation in the UAE, who intends to take the programme back to her country to inspire others.

She said: “I’ve felt energised being around so many strong women since I arrived. Having an opportunity like this is rare in the Arab world which is why I am keen to bring it to the UAE. There’s a strong sense of community at WSLA and I’ve made many new connections, also learning new communicative skills and leadership qualities.”

Guest speakers at the WSLA residential this year included Badminton England CEO – and 2019 graduate – Sue Storey, who spoke about leading the UK’s sixth-largest sport. She was joined by Irish rugby international Magali Dolo, now EMEA Head of Leadership and Management Development at Insight Technologies, who reflected on her career and the transition into working in software.

Alice Lowe from charity The Golf Foundation, part of the 2022 cohort, said: “It’s very powerful joining a group of female leaders in sport and getting opportunities to network with people across the world. WSLA is a unique experience and I’ll use the tools I’ve developed this week not only in my future professional career but also my personal life.”

Dr Jordan Matthews

The WSLA programme has been adopted worldwide including in New Zealand, where it partnered with the nation’s Olympic Committee to help retired athletes transition into leadership positions, and recently with the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee in March.

It was co-organised by Dr Jordan Matthews, who is a senior lecturer in Sport Development at the University of Chichester. He said: “The under-representation and lack of development opportunities for women leaders in sport has been identified for decades. Sport leadership continues to be male dominated, and we created WSLA to change this.”

Read more about the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy and its work in developing female trailblazers at www.wsla.co.uk.

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