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UK: Inspiring sports research lands gold for Uni lecturer

Stacey Pope and Dr Stephanie Cook

Stacey Pope and Dr Stephanie Cook

Landmark research into why female football fans follow the sport has been awarded a major prize.

Dr Stacey Pope’s presentation ‘The formative experiences of three generations of female football fans’ was one of five winners selected from some 450 research presentations judged by the International Convention on Science, Education and Medicine in Sport (ICSEMIS).

This work was part of collaboration with Professor David Kirk, Director of Institute for Sport and Physical Education Research at the University of Bedfordshire.

Dr Pope, a senior lecturer in Sports Sociology and Social Sciences at the University, was presented with an Early Career Researcher Prize by former Olympic Gold medal winner Dr Stephanie Cook MBE, at the ICSEMIS conference in Glasgow.

A “delighted” Dr Pope said: “It’s a real honour.”

“The experiences of female sports fans have been largely ignored in academic research and little research has considered the impact of sports participation in physical education on young people’s future involvement in sport as fans. This research marks one contribution towards changing this.”

The study drew on 51 interviews with three generations of female football fans at Leicester City Football Club with three age groups: 20-27, 28-59 and 60 plus. They were asked what opportunities they had had to play football at school and whether they were influenced by family members.

Dr Pope discovered that as a result of their gender all three generations of women experienced inequalities in sport.

Almost all of the middle and older groups of female fans were prohibited from participating in football at school and despite recent changes in society that have arguably led to greater equality between the sexes only half of the women from the youngest age group had opportunities to play the sport at school.

Some of the women reported that they had received a lack of support from teachers to play the sport they followed, with teachers imposing the belief that as girls they were physically inferior so were at greater harm if they tried to participate in what was perceived as a ‘male’ sport.

Many women also came under pressure from peers to stop playing sport during teenage years in order to conform to ‘feminine’ expectations. Women’s experiences in physical education and sport at school therefore played a mostly negative role in influencing their interest in male professional football as adults.

Positive male role models, however, played an important role for some football fans across the three generations, with 75 per cent citing a close male relative as key in their becoming a football fan. Dr Pope called for more research to put women’s experiences as fans on the sports agenda and to examine the role of young people’s experiences of school physical education in developing their interest in sport as fans and participants.

Professor David Kirk said: “Stacey’s prize continues a successful run of awards for members of the University’s Physical Education and Sports Pedagogy research group this year.”

Victoria Goodyear won best poster prize at the Association for Physical Education’s national conference and Ruan Jones won best paper prize at this year’s Teaching Games for Understanding Conference.

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