WHATEVER your preference for news it is difficult to miss the fact that women’s sport in Scotland is making the headlines. From golf to judo, swimming to athletics, female success is no longer a one-off, isolated news story. This growth is part of a global trend that is witnessing more women athletes, coaches, commentators and officials being seen as integral to mainstream sport.

In the past 20 years sport has become so much more than a leisure activity. It is now used as a framework for education, for conflict resolution and for addressing gender inequalities. Sport as an employment sector has grown dramatically, in part at least due to the surge in the number of sports that have become professional. And sport as a form of entertainment is without doubt a global phenomenon.

For those who love sport, whether it’s different types or one discipline in particular , passion is the ingredient which binds and ignites audiences beyond what is easily explained. In Scotland over the past 12 months passion for sport and passion for change have collided in what can only be described as a unique moment in history.

The country might have expected to take a break from the international spotlight after the Commonwealth Games last summer but the independence referendum and the SNP’s General Election landslide have again had the world watching with interest. In light of this national momentum behind a desire for change, it is pertinent that organisations such as Scottish Women in Sport (SWiS) are seizing the opportunity to build on what has been a highly successful past year.

SWiS has spent the past year campaigning tirelessly to increase awareness of girls’ and women’s sport and in the process has promoted and called for a cultural change across our country’s sporting landscape.

From boardrooms to grassroots participation, SWiS is challenging business, local and national government, sporting bodies, grandparents, parents and teachers to work together to provide accessible sport for girls and women at all levels. The breadth and number of blogs from a range of disciplines across the spectrum on the SWiS website illustrate that this mission for change isn’t just wanted, it is needed.

When I was first introduced to SWiS, the charity had recently been launched by a small team of volunteers sharing a vision to educate and celebrate women’s sport. While this sounded like a noble ambition, I wondered how far this sentiment would take them. I needn’t have worried. It has taken them a long way in a short time with minimal resources and a fresh attitude that has inclusion at its core. For a number of years I have worked in gender equality where inclusion and diversity have become the key terms. But it is only in getting to know SWiS that I have seen how powerful inclusion can be.

While recognising wholeheartedly that the benefits of sport in terms of health and wellbeing are well documented, SWiS also acknowledges that life is never simple. For too many girls and women, taking part or just starting in sport can be intimidating. Acknowledging and working to overcome even the smallest of hurdles to participation can be important in ensuring involvement becomes easier.

The issues at grassroots or everyday local sport level – such as like coaching, changing facilities, childcare, leisure time and transport – are often overlooked in the big-picture thinking of sports strategy. But if they are not addressed participation rates will continue to be erratic, retention will be limited and the pipeline will leak.

What SWiS captures in an inclusive way is most visible in the diverse people who gravitate towards the charity and become involved in its mission. The network is strong, the collaboration evolving from the network is strong and the goodwill is understated and passionate.

Now in its second year the charity has embraced a broad spectrum of issues facing women’s sport and is uniquely positioned to listen to and share ideas with their growing community. When SWiS held its inaugural annual conference a year ago, it was opened by international tennis coach Judy Murray and Scottish broadcaster Alison Walker and attended by more than a hundred people.

YESTERDAY, in association with SSE and hosted by RBS at their Gogarburn HQ in Edinburgh, SWiS held their second annual conference. The audience had doubled from 2014 and brought together academics, athletes, businesses, local authorities, government officials, charities, media professionals and sporting bodies.

The conference topic, A Culture Change for Scottish Women in Sport, was the culmination of the charity’s activity over the past year. Delegates also looked to the future with a focus on building on the progress made to date.

With a mission that aims to educate, participate and celebrate women’s sport, Maureen McGonigle, SWiS founder and chief executive, is pleased with the success the organisation has achieved in a short time.

Talking to McGonigle, formerly executive administrator of Scottish Women’s Football, is always a treat as her obvious passion for sport is infectious. During our conversation this week she spoke with pride about the fact that golfer Kylie Walker, an SSE Next Generation athlete who spoke at yesterday’s conference, has qualified for the US Open.

She also talked about the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada next month, which Scotland narrowly missed out on qualifying for, and, of course, the success of the women’s volleyball team in winning a silver at the European Championship and being promoted to the B division.

Passion and progress are working well for SWiS. They held a packed awards dinner at the end of 2014, launched a new website and secured office space at Glasgow Caledonian University. However, the elephant in the room continues to be funding. Too often I end up concluding positive conversations about the work being done to accelerate the opportunities for girls and women in sport by talking about the ongoing frustrations with a lack of funding.

SWiS is a fine example of what can be achieved with very limited resources but there is a point when some solutions need to be found to identify achievable and sustainable change on the issue of finance. With just one per cent of annual sports sponsorship and five per cent of media coverage finding its way to women’s sport in the UK each year it’s easy to see where the problems lie for bodies such as SWiS and across the wider field of women’s sports.

So what is the next step? Conversations need to start between sport and business. There needs to be open-minded participants who want to share new ideas and find win-win relationships.

For SWiS relationships with business are a priority and this week it has been announced that SWiS is launching a series of business clubs. Igniting those vital conversations about funding is an important step towards bringing together different businesses of varying sizes to really analyse how we can create change on this fundamental issue. Sometimes sport as a concept is too big a proposition to consider, making it important to look at individual sports which are growing and thriving.

WOMEN’S rugby is one such example. It leads the way in Scotland with females making up more than 20 per cent of the playing population and is one of the fastest- growing team sports in the world. This is due in no small part to the last two Women’s Rugby World Cup tournaments. Supporter, media and sponsor interest sparked by the 2010 tournament in England led to the statistics being blown out of the water in France just four years later.

At last year’s World Cup many of the matches were an early sell-out and broadcast audiences multiplied. Almost three million viewers in France alone tuned in to watch England win a hard-fought final against Canada. Worldwide, we now have more than 1.7 million women and girls playing rugby, an increase of 20 per cent on 2014.

Scotland has been a pioneer of the women’s game, having staged the first women’s international between Scotland and Ireland in February 1993 and, in Donna Kennedy, who played in that first international and retired following the 2010 World Cup, we have the most capped female player in the world.

Recognising the game as truly a sport for all, rugby in Scotland continues to develop, with new grassroots teams forming and growing every day.

Off the field, recognising the growing importance of female participation, not only from a competitive perspective but also from a health and wellbeing perspective, Scottish Rugby recently appointed Sheila Begbie, formerly Head of Women’s and Girls’ Football with the SFA, as Head of Women’s and Girls’ Rugby.

Work is ongoing on a comprehensive strategy for the women’s game. In 2013, Solicitor General for Scotland and Melrose RFC stalwart Lesley Thomson became the first woman to be appointed to the Scottish Rugby board.

Rugby sevens for women will be included in Commonwealth Games for the first time in 2018 and the women’s game will take its place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Ireland has just been announced as host of 2017 Rugby World Cup and having such a major event so close to home can only inspire and encourage more girls in Scotland to get involved.

The value of sport is best understood from the position of participation and this is what we should all be committed to because without participation there can be no celebration.

It is easy to see that passion alone may not be enough to transform women’s sport. It is only the staunch and ongoing support, pragmatism, inclusion and hard work of organisations such as Scottish Women in Sport that will carry women’s sport over the winning line.

Jane Dennehy is the director of the Gender Hub, which undertakes social research, consulting and advisory services in the areas of sport, media, labour market and women’s health. Gender Hub is also a?? UNESCO partner at the Global Gender and Media Alliance.