GROWING up as a sports-mad kid in the west of Scotland in the 1990s, the coverage of women’s sport in the media left much to be desired.

Similarly, sportswomen who were household names were few and far between.

Sally Gunnell, who won Olympic 400m hurdles gold in 1992, was my hero but I genuinely struggle to recall any other female athletes or moments of coverage of women’s sport from that time.

In the 1990s, remember, women’s football had only been reinstated as legal less than 20 years previously having been banned since 1921; women’s boxing remained illegal and the general level of coverage of women’s sport was paltry, to say the least.

So, considering where we were in terms of women’s sport only three decades ago, the progress has been quite remarkable.

Women’s football has become one of the fastest-growing sports across the UK with Scotland’s women’s national team qualifying for their first-ever major tournament at the Euros in 2017, swiftly followed by Scotland’s first appearance at the Women’s World Cup, in 2019. In Hannah Rankin, Scotland gained its first-ever female boxing world champion in 2019 and Laura Muir, Eilish McColgan, Katie Archibald, Eve Muirhead plus several more have ensured we have a sizeable group of female athletes who can genuinely be considered household names across the country. 

The National: Hannah Rankin became Scotland's first-ever female boxing world champion in 2019Hannah Rankin became Scotland's first-ever female boxing world champion in 2019

For someone who has been both a keen observer and an active participant in sport over the past three decades, I’ve witnessed first-hand quite how dramatic the shift has been in terms of both the quality of sport produced by female athletes, and the level of respect afforded to women’s sport.

The importance of this progress cannot be underestimated.

The idiom “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” is often repeated but in a sporting context, it’s unfailingly accurate.

To expect a young girl to envisage herself becoming a professional athlete when role models are like an endangered species is a fantasy.

So having successful female athletes as visible role models is vital.

Similarly, the fact that women are now able to attract sizeable sponsorship deals and significant crowds is huge.

It highlights to society, and particularly to young girls, that women’s sport and female athletes are valuable.

Sportswomen are not, as they have been viewed in many quarters in the past, there simply to tick a box or to act as a warm-up event to the male athletes.

Rather, female athletes are now seen as professional sportspeople playing professional sport and, in the main, their gender does not come into the equation.

Despite all the progress, however, we must not become complacent.

Yes, huge leaps forward have been made but let’s not pretend there isn’t still significant work to do.

Media coverage of female athletes and women’s sport may have increased significantly but the percentage of coverage given to women’s sport still remains tiny in comparison to men’s sport.

Prize money within women’s sport and levels of sponsorship offered to female athletes remain considerably lower than that which men’s sport and male athletes enjoy.

For example, last month, the respected American sports news company, Sportico, released its list of highest paid athletes in 2023.

The list was, unsurprisingly, topped by a man; Cristiano Ronaldo, with the footballer’s earnings totalling $275 million.

What was shocking, though, was that I had to scroll down to below number 200 on the list to find the highest-paid female athlete, in the shape of tennis player, Coco Gauff, with earnings of just under $23 million leaving her $10 million short of the list’s top 100.

The National: Coco Gauff was the world's highest-earning sportswoman in 2023Coco Gauff was the world's highest-earning sportswoman in 2023

And we’re still some considerable distance from eliminating blatant misogyny, something that has been so well illustrated by former professional footballer Joey Barton recently.

In the first two months of this year alone, the 41-year-old Englishman has gone on countless rants about his disdain for women’s football, women’s football players and females working within the football media.

Many would agree that Barton is a clown, and his opinions are not worth listening to.

But what must be noted is the number of people, mainly men, it has to be said, who rushed to agree with the former midfielder.

Flurries of sexist abuse were directed towards, in particular, female football pundits who, said Barton, were there merely to tick a box in terms of equality quotas.

That no woman has played men’s football leaves them unable to comment at all on the men’s game, spouted Barton, with hundreds, if not thousands, of comments backing up his stance.

These kind of sweeping statements and assumptions that women’s sport is inherently less valuable than men’s remain a plague on society.

Yes, female athletes are physically different to male athletes - that’s a fact of biology.

But to then make the leap to assuming that as a result, women’s sport is significantly less valuable, less deserving of respect, less worthy of being watched and less worthy of sponsorship as a result of the fact that say, a woman runs marginally slower than a man in the Olympic 100m final, is just plain wrong.

Many things go into making sport exciting, and women’s sport has all these qualities in abundance.

So, while we cannot relax in the fight for equality – there’s not a soul involved in women’s sport who would suggest this is the case – we should also take a minute to sit back and appreciate the progress that’s being made.

Women’s sport is light years ahead of where it was when I was a young girl and for that, we should be thankful.

And then, we must return to the battle for progress.