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The headquarters of the EU Commission in Brussels today played host to the Closing Conference of the EU Erasmus+ supported FIA European Young Women Programme, one of the federation’s initiatives to champion gender equality and increase the participation of women in motor sport at grassroots level.

The Conference was opened by FIA Women in Motorsport Commission President and former Vice World Rally Champion, Michèle Mouton. FIA President Jean Todt, European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc, and two of the Girls on Track Karting Challenge finalists joined the opening session held in the presence of European commissioners, executives from national, public and European institutions, and representatives from within sporting, motor sport and women in sport organisations.  

Following a complete review of the two-year project, key outcomes were presented by the programme’s academic partner, most notably a sociological survey as well as a set of recommendations to the sport’s stakeholders and public institutions on how to challenge gender stereotypes around sport and better promote equality.

With the FIA receiving funding from the Erasmus+ programme, its Women in Motorsport Commission was able to implement a competition model for the promotion and development of young women in motor sport, resulting in the FIA Girls on Track Karting Challenge, supported by Yokohama, being 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 thrill of karting but to open their eyes 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 surroundings of Le Mans. From here, the team attended two Driver Training Camps to help enhance their careers in the intense world of motor sport. 

The central 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 believe this type of event can encourage more girls to take up the sport, underlining the relevance of such initiatives.

However, 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, specifically for females. 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, such as the FIA European Young Women Programme.

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport then concluded the morning session, underlining the particular importance of fighting stereotypes and ensuring girls and women get the opportunity to do whatever they want 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. Using the FIA European Young Women Programme as a model for discussion, 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 closing panel 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.

Graham Stoker closed the conference on a truly inspirational note: “Motor sport is remarkably transformational and this is only the beginning of a sustainable programme that will reap long term rewards,” said the FIA’s Deputy President for Sport. “Together we are breaking the mould and I am delighted to confirm we will continue with the Girls on Track into the future. We are also looking at establishing an elite academy to help young women along the pathway of the sport. I’m confident we can deliver strong and vital support to women, and make a very positive contribution to gender 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 the 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.

The key outcomes of the programme and the sociological survey will be presented to the European Commission by February 2020, and will also be available through the FIA.