Girls on Tracks: challenging gender stereotypes and promoting equality in sport

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The Closing Conference took place in Bibliotheque Solvay in Brussels.
The Closing Conference took place in Bibliotheque Solvay in Brussels.
Jean Todt, President of FIA, opening the conference.
Jean Todt, President of FIA, opening the conference.
Nina Pothol, one of the finalists, sharing her experiences from the race track.
Nina Pothol, one of the finalists, sharing her experiences from the race track.
Karting slalom demonstration took place during the conference.
Karting slalom demonstration took place during the conference.

Our daughters have come away really motivated from this event, and believe that they can achieve whatever they want, if they put their minds to it – say parents of participants of the Girls on Tracks initiative co-funded by the FIA Foundation under the FIA Sport Grants Programme. Supported by the EU Erasmus+ and Yokohama, implemented under the FIA European Young Women Programme, Girls on Tracks is one of the FIA initiatives to champion gender equality and increase the participation of women in motor sport at grassroots level.

A complete review of the two-year project was presented during the closing conference in Brussels on 2nd of October 2019. The conference was opened by FIA Women in Motorsport Commission President and former Vice World Rally Champion, Michèle Mouton, FIA President Jean Todt and European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc. Two of the Girls on Track Karting Challenge finalists joined the opening session to share experiences and insights from their journey through grassroots motor sports. All speakers highlighted the transformational abilities of motor sport as well as the fact that is one of the handful of disciplines where man and women can race and compete head to head. However much more needs to be done to ensure that both genders have equal access and opportunities.

The FIA Girls on Track Karting Challenge was launched in March 2018. The programme - partnered by eight European national sporting authorities and CDES-PROGESPORT at the University of Limoges - welcomed girls between the ages of 13 and 18 to urban karting slalom events, not only to experience the excitement of karting but to alert them to the many career options available within the sport. Twenty-two events in nine countries saw more than 1200 girls take part, before a six-strong European Team was selected at the final in the famous tracks of Le Mans. From here, the team attended two Driver Training Camps to help enhance skills required for a career in the intense world of motor sport.

During the morning session initiative’s academic partner, CDES-PROGESPORT, presented results of the sociological survey conducted throughout the duration of the challenge. The survey revealed very positive feedback from participants who had a particularly high satisfaction rate (96.4%) for the Girls on Track Karting Challenge events, the highest proportion citing fun and speed as key factors. An impressive 97.4% also believed this type of event can encourage more girls to take up the sport, underlining the relevance of such initiatives.

The profile of the participants also revealed the influence of an early acquaintance with motor sport in order to overcome the gender stereotypes surrounding it, and a lack of adaptation within the environment, such as facilities and equipment, as barriers. Communication and the promotion of female role models was another key factor to help encourage young girls to the sport. As such, the challenges to be met in order to encourage an effective gender equality refer to the conditions of access, to the environment surrounding the practice at grassroots level, and more generally to the establishment of sustainable proactive female-friendly policies and initiatives.

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport then concluded the morning session, underlining the importance of fighting stereotypes and ensuring girls and women get the opportunity to do whatever they desire in life.

After a karting demonstration by the six-strong FIA Girls on Track Karting Challenge European Team in the grounds of the Bibliothèque Solvay, the afternoon session hosted two panel discussions, the first about making motor sport more accessible for women at grassroots level. The panel included Anssi Kannas, Secretary General of Finland’s AKK-Motorsport, Milja Kukkonen, a member of the Girls on Track Karting Challenge European Team, Tatiana Calderón, test driver for the Alfa Romeo Racing F1 team, FIA Formula 2 Championship racer and an ambassador to the programme, and Margarita Torres Diez, Trackside Formula One Power Unit Engineer for the Mercedes F1 team.

The final session looked at how sport can foster gender equality, leading to discussion between Brianna Salvatore, UNESCO Sport for Development, Sylvia Poll, Olympic medallist and member of Peace for Sport, Kirsten Hasenpusch, ENGSO Youth Committee Member and Marijke Fleuren, President of the European Hockey Federation on techniques helping to overcome barriers faced by female athletes worldwide.

Graham Stoker, FIA Deputy President for Sport closed the conference by confirming the FIA commitment to deliver strong support to women and to address gender stereotypes around sport and better promote equality.

As a continuation of this successful inaugural programme, the FIA and its Women in Motorsport Commission intend to expand the project. In a bid to appeal to a wider female audience across all aspects of motor sport, the age range will be opened up to 8-18 year olds and the project will be launched globally alongside selected events of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.