Women in sport and allyship


  • Katie Sadleir, Chief Executive Officer – Commonwealth Games Federation
  • Abi Ijasanmi, Former COO – Confederation of African Football (CAF)
  • Fiona Harold, Commercial Director – Ladies European Tour
  • Ms. Elif Özdemir, CEO Board Member & President – Gloria Sports Arena, Turkish National Olympic Committee, Turkish Archery Federation, International Committee of the Mediterranean Games (CIJM), Women in Sports Commission in CIJM
  • Gavin Marshall, CEO – Bristol Sport Group


For all the progress of recent years, empowering the influence and impact of women in sport  is a challenge that still demands a collective solutions. On day one of ISC 2024, an expert panel explored the value of female and male allyship in diversifying the sector.

Commonwealth Games Federation CEO Katie Sadleir started by recalling the challenges she faced when she took on the role of General Manager Women’s Rugby at the male-dominated World Rugby.

“Right away I realised I needed to get significant male allies in order to drive the change I wanted,” she said.

Ultimately, Sadleir wanted to get women into rugby but explained she could not do so with men blocking the way.

It was an experience reflected by all the other female members of the panel, who all felt the need to create a network of support when entering the sports industry as a woman. This was due to both a lack of women at the leadership level and the way in which women’s disciplines have historically been undervalued.

More promisingly, all of these women have found supportive male allies who have provided help with promoting initiatives in challenging environments.

Ladies European Tour commercial director Fiona Harold explained what this can look like in practice. “It is important for people to just listen and educate themselves,” she said.

That is a role that Gavin Marshall has sought to fill at Bristol Sport Group, which has chosen to support Bristol City Women by ensuring they can play at the men’s Ashton Gate Stadium for all their Women’s Super League games this season.

“It’s also about making our female staff visible,” Marshall explains. “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.

“We were the first team to put names on the back of our women’s rugby sides’ shirts. It’s often the small things that make a big impact. That made the players feel valued.”

He also highlighted the need for recognition of his own privilege as a man in sport, which would mean he has had a different experience to women in sport.

The panel also addressed nuances in language that can make a big difference. Referring to a men’s team as the ‘first team’ and using different terminology for a women’s equivalent can create a sense of inequality.

“We did go through a whole exercise to drop gender from tournaments [in rugby],” said Sadleir. “That, to me, was vitally important.”

Challenges remain when it comes to gaining sponsorship for women’s sports, with Harold highlighting the reluctance from sponsors of men’s sport to extend that to the women’s equivalent.

Marshall argued that some of this came down to teams learning how to commercialise their women’s teams better. He suggested clubs should do better at seeking out sponsors who may not be interested in men’s sport but would be in women’s.

Discussion turned to support of pregnancy in sport, with the panel agreeing that education and resources need to be improved to ease career and family disruption for expectant and new mothers – particularly given that this is an issue men largely do not have to think about.