Paul Bush | The return of women’s sport is crucial amid event recovery

Paul Bush, director of events at VisitScotland, discusses post-pandemic events in women's sport and why we have a lot to look forward to in spite of the recent setbacks caused by Covid-19

Women’s sport came into 2020 riding high on the crest of a wave amidst a global movement to continue to close the disparity between the genders at the elite level.

The outstanding success of the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup and the historic 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles were two prime examples of women’s sport making its mark on the global stage, further raising expectations that 2020 was to be a year of continued change.

Fast forward eight months and it’s clear the impact on women’s sport has been severe.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not discriminate on the basis of gender, with events across the sporting calendar cancelled or postponed. But as some green shoots of recovery have started to appear, there is no doubt that finance and infrastructure associated with men’s sport has allowed it to plan its restart more quickly and with more immediate success than its female counterparts.

The Ladies European Tour schedule in particular, which had been revitalised following the successful platform of The 2019 Solheim Cup, has been hit hard.

The next two weeks in Scotland, however, mark a seminal moment for the return of women’s sport. The Aberdeen Standard Investment Ladies Scottish Open represents a return to competitive action at the top level in the UK and Europe, as the world’s best female golfers travel to The Renaissance Club in East Lothian from August 13-16.

The following week sees the global return of major championship sport for women with the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon in Ayrshire.

The importance of these events cannot be overstated. In Scotland, like many other countries, our events sector has been decimated so their return, albeit as made-for-TV only, will be a significant boost. As well as showcasing our scenic coastlines to a global audience to support our vital golf tourism industry and inspire international visitors to come when the time is right, they have been crucial in identifying key factors and best practice for the phased return of events.

Since the postponement of the Aberdeen Standard Investments men’s Scottish Open originally scheduled for July, our two women’s events have been the sole focus for VisitScotland, EventScotland and the Scottish Government. It is a fitting legacy, which underlines Scotland’s commitment to women’s sport, that in the year following the best-ever Solheim Cup the country can still stage these two women’s championships in the most trying of circumstances.

Central to that has been the commitment and dedication of both IMG and The R&A as organisers of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Ladies Scottish Open and the AIG Women’s Open respectively. Through close collaboration with the Scottish Government’s clinical advisers, they have developed comprehensive plans and protocols involving a bio-secure bubble which have given Scottish Ministers the confidence that both events can proceed.

Aberdeen Standard Investments and AIG as title sponsors of both events also deserve enormous credit for maintaining their investment and support when the easy option would have been to defer it for future years. Both organisations have underlined their commitment to women’s golf and Scotland is proud to stand alongside both in supporting the return of the women’s game.

Of course, it is disappointing not to be able to have spectators on the ground at the events but both tournaments are working hard to engage and inspire audiences in different ways. It has also meant that we, as sponsors, are having to think differently about activation of rights and benefits associated with those events, focussing more on digital and content opportunities which I suspect will be a legacy of the current situation for some time to come.

Health and well-being are key pillars for the Scottish Government and one of the driving factors behind our investment in major golf events. There has undoubtedly been some positive signs arising from the post-lockdown period. With golfers taking to the fairways in greater numbers and with women’s golf being one of the first global sports to return, we hope it will have a positive impact on that trend.

The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” has never been more important and I’m hugely proud of the role Scotland has played in the return of women’s sport. And while the world can watch and dream of following in their footsteps at both The Renaissance Club and Royal Troon, we look forward to being able to warmly welcome visitors from around the world again when the time is right.