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A motorsport chief has praised equestrianism for “blazing the trail” for gender equality in sport.

FIA secretary general Peter Bayer made the comments during the FEI Sports Forum in Lausanne on 26 March.

Mr Bayer spoke of the difficulty motorsport has faced in getting more women involved and why having “grid girls” is at odds with the sport’s new direction.

“Grid girls” are models used to carry out promotional tasks at Formula One events. They would wear clothing bearing sponsors’ logos and their role included holding umbrellas for drivers, holding driver name boards and lining the walk-way to the podium.

Mr Bayer told the forum that getting more women involved in motorsport is “something we have been struggling with”.

He added it was great to see the equal balance of men and women on the eight-strong youth panel that took place at the forum.

“We are trying to understand why the drop-out happens and at the same time trying to improve participation of young women,” said Mr Bayer.

The FIA recently launched its “The Girls On Track” initiative to boost female participation in the sport and replaced “grid girls” with up-and-coming drivers.

“We felt by launching ‘The Girls On Track’ programme and trying to have equal participation and at the same time having grid girls holding an umbrella for our drivers probably doesn’t fit well together,” he said.

“It was a very difficult discussion, especially because the fans did not like it to start with, but the commercial rights group with whom we work very closely was very supportive.

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“The people coming on the grid with drivers [now] are young, future Formula One stars.

“They are people who are being selected by the federation, by the local governing body which allows them to enter the pit, which allows them to get exposure, which allows them to get international TV exposure and to be in touch with the national media.

“We believe it is an important step and I hope we can continue to exchange and to learn from [the FEI] about how you have achieved what you have done, which I think is amazing.

“We also have the same framework in place, we have men and women competing in the same races, in the same cars and we think this is something where [equestrian sport] has been blazing the trail and we would definitely like to hear more from you.”

For more news from the FEI Sports Forum, don’t miss next week’s issue of Horse & Hound – out Thursday, 5 April