Reimagining fields of play to grow the future of women in sport through world-class research

18 July 2023

Professor Holly Thorpe
Professor Holly Thorpe, School of Health

As fans flock to the first 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup matches this week, academics from across the globe are heading to the University of Waikato for the Reimagining Fields of Play sport and gender research symposium. The event will celebrate the growing momentum globally to develop the future of women in sport through world-class research.

Professor Holly Thorpe from Waikato’s Te Huataki Waiora School of Health says the FIFA Women’s World Cup was the perfect opportunity to gather some of the world’s leading academics and professionals together in one room to continue building the profile of women’s sport.

“A key focus of the symposium is to share and receive feedback across research and sporting disciplines, sectors and countries to learn from others and better collaborate for a reimagined field of play for women, whether it is on the field, in the lab, or at the boardroom table.”

Professor Thorpe emphasises the significance of the symposium being in New Zealand as a way to showcase to the world how we are leading in this space.

“It’s important to share the mahi and exciting research happening in Aotearoa. I am proud to stand beside leading local professionals, academics, and representatives from various sports organisations, such as Sport Waikato,  the New Zealand Olympic Committee, and Sport New Zealand, to listen, learn and collaborate with colleagues from the UK, Australia, Canada, the United States and beyond.”

Conversations will centre around a range of topics based on research currently happening here in New Zealand and abroad. From discussions on cultural pride and body image of young Māori and Pacific wāhine to menstrual health and sport, community leadership to encourage girls to flourish in sport, the challenges for athletes navigating social media, and strategies and legacy planning of organisers and nations participating in global competitions across football, rugby and cricket.

“There is a diversity of voices from Masters and PhD students, early career researchers, established academics, and those working in and playing sport professionally. It is a great chance for everyone, regardless of their career stage, to lean into conversations about the ongoing research, and mahi across many levels to create change in this space,” Professor Thorpe explains.

A symposium highlight will be a panel on building gender-inclusive sporting environments across sectors with creativity and collaboration. Among the impressive line-up of panellists is track and field Olympian Sarah Cowley-Ross, who currently sits on the New Zealand Olympic Committee as Athletes Commission Chair, and Professor Martha Saveedra, Associate Director at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been a researcher for over 30 years, looking at gender, development and sport in various African countries.

This research aligns with the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Good Health and Well-being Gender Equality Reduced Inequalities Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

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