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Sophie Goodwin: So many benefit when the spotlight is put on women’s sport – here are the highlights ahead this year

The Scotland team celebrating during the FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers.
The Scotland team celebrating during the FIFA Women's World Cup qualifiers.

With today being International Women’s Day, it feels right to look ahead to a small selection of this year’s sporting events which will positively impact women’s sport.

It’s an exciting year for women’s sport, with several potential major moments that will give so many different people a much-deserved spotlight.

Whether that’s athletes, coaches, fans or even sports writers and broadcasters, so many people benefit when women’s sport is given the attention it deserves – and needs.

I’ve compiled a list of just four of the major events I’m looking forward to watching this year, and why I believe they deserve to be celebrated this International Women’s Day.

Scotland securing World Cup qualification

As a Scottish football fan, it wouldn’t be right if this didn’t make the top of my list.

Nobody will forget the euphoria the nation felt when Steve Clarke’s men qualified for their first major tournament since 1998 and played at last summer’s Euros.

And I for one will feel the exact same if the women’s side qualify for next year’s World Cup – which would only be their second ever.

But Scotland Women qualifying for their second consecutive World Cup is about more than just getting the players on the pitch in Australia and New Zealand.

The impact from the national team playing at their first World Cup back in 2019 has been clear to see.

Since that tournament in France, the girls’ and women’s game has grown by 17% in Scotland.

The number of girls and women participating has increased year upon year since the World Cup – except in 2020, something which was put down to Covid-19.

As of 2021, there were over 17,000 registered girls and women players in Scotland.

The women’s game in Scotland is at a pivotal stage. With the elite leagues moving across to the SPFL, it feels like the dawn of a new era.

And, if the national team were to qualify for the World Cup, it’s another opportunity for the growth of the game at grassroots and professional level.

I have no doubt that qualification for 2023 would have the same impact as four years ago, as more eyes will be cast upon the game with fans, future generations of players, and the media looking on.

It’s not going to be easy and it looks like Scotland’s best chance of getting to the major tournament will be through the play-offs.

Scotland currently sit second in their group – behind Spain – with three qualification games left to be played, including a clash at Hampden against the group leaders.

By finishing second, Scotland would enter the complex play-off system with the eight other group runners-up.

It could be a long journey to get to Australia and New Zealand, but if we get there – it will be worth it.

UEFA Women’s Euros

Although Scotland won’t be playing in this summer’s Euros, the major tournament will still play an important role for women’s football in this country.

The Euros, which takes place between July 6-31, will be hosted across ten stadiums in England, including Wembley and Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

UEFA has anticipated it will be a record-breaking summer that will eclipse attendances at the last tournament in the Netherlands.

As of November 2021, over 400,000 tickets had already been requested by a public ballot or bought in pre-sales.

For someone who constantly feels like they have to justify or even explain the interest that exists for women’s football, the Euros spectacle might just take do the talking for itself.

In January, I felt oddly emotional watching a midweek FAWSL game between Arsenal and Brighton on Sky Sports.

Even still, it feels strange that we can now regularly watch women’s football on mainstream TV and that’s going to be available on the BBC for almost an entire month come July.

And I believe they will get even more people tuning in – in their millions – than they did for the World Cup in 2019, so please tell me again why nobody cares about women’s football?

Even though Scotland won’t be there, it will still be an absolute treat to see some of Europe’s best talent play in England this summer, and it will be even better to see fans turning out in record numbers.

Rugby World Cup

Their place was only confirmed two weeks ago, but Scotland Women reaching the Rugby World Cup already feels massively important.

After beating Colombia, it was clear how much it meant to every single Scotland player, coach and backroom staff member.

I have no doubt Scotland reaching the major tournament will have the same impact on rugby, as it did on football.

I’m delighted these players will get to have the opportunity to represent their country on a stage they thought they might never get to.

In New Zealand, it will be the first time Scotland will play at a Rugby World Cup since 2010.

Scotland captain Rachael Malcolm said after securing their place: “It probably sounds a bit over the top, but as a wee girl I dreamt of playing in this shirt.

“As did everyone in that squad today and to go out there and play with some of my best mates and perform for Scotland and get Scotland into a Rugby World Cup – I can’t even begin to explain how much it means to me.”

I don’t think what Malcolm said was over the top at all, and I am so happy that she is fully living out her dreams.

And, in doing so, the skipper and her teammates will have shown so many other young rugby players that their dreams, too, can very much become a reality.

Commonwealth Games

Although it only happens every four years, the Commonwealth Games is one of the most important events in one sport’s calendar.

The Commonwealth Games is considered one of only two major international tournaments in netball, with the other being the Netball World Cup.

And, last week, the Scottish Thistles’ place for Birmingham was finally confirmed.

Success at the Commonwealth Games would not only help improve and further establish the game in Scotland, which is already a good work in progress, but this year’s event seems to have higher stakes.

In October 2021, the Commonwealth Games Federation announced that, from 2026, swimming and athletics will be the only compulsory sports which need to be included in the competition.

The CGF also recommended that only 15 sports should feature at the event going forward, with the host city able to select what they want included in the sporting schedule.

For a sport like netball where the Commonwealth Games plays such an important role, it feels like, in Birmingham, teams will be fighting it out among themselves for a medal, while collectively fighting to protect their future.