Why What We Say Affects Equal Play

Firstly, hello again. A few weeks off writing my blog turned into a few months… and before I knew it, I’d taken a full blown sabbatical. I’m back. I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.

I wrote this with half an eye on the England versus Scotland match in the Women’s European Football Championships. Gary Lineker’s twitter feed would suggest he was pretty busy last night fending off criticism about how much he is paid by the BBC, but if he was watching he would have seen Jodie Taylor score the first hat trick for any England football player in a major tournament since he popped up with three goals against Poland in the 1986 World Cup. The Men’s World Cup, that is – if we describe female competitions as “Women’s,” shouldn’t we start clarifying when tournaments are played by their male counterparts too?

Striker Toni Duggan recently became the first English player since Lineker to join FC Barcelona. I wonder if Duggan will outdo his 42 goals for the Catalans – and if she does, I wonder how widely it will be acknowledged.

While I’m on the subjects of women’s football and sports presenters, we watched Clare Balding’s excellent Channel 4 documentary, “When Football Banned Women” the other night. If you didn’t see it (and if so, I’d highly recommend tracking it down on catch up TV), it told the story of the little-known heyday of English women’s football, of Lily Parr and her Dick Kerr Ladies’ team mates playing in front of crowds of 25,000. The glory days were cut cruelly and unjustifiably short by the FA in 1921 and the women’s side of the game has been playing catch up ever since.

So why does this matter? It matters because despite the best efforts of Women’s Sport Week and This Girl Can, despite increasing female participation in netball, football and hockey, despite the baby steps we are taking towards a level playing field… we are still fighting against deeply rooted social prejudice. 

This was illustrated by both the decisions about and reaction to the show court allocation at Wimbledon this year. Among other things, a breakdown of the Centre and Court One allocations shows that:

“The top five seeded women played on court two and court three more times than on Centre Court this year. For men, not a single match was held on court two or court three, or the outside courts.” [BBC – http://m.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/40630043]

There’s no getting away from the fact that sport is about business and entertainment, but if administrative decisions are based on how good it is assumed a match might be and on a supposed current level of popularity, we create a situation which will always support the status quo. Fundamentally, it doesn’t enable change and it doesn’t provide female players the same opportunities to achieve their potential and push the boundaries of their performances.

Andy Murray received well-deserved praise at SW19 for correcting a journalist who described Sam Querrey as the first American Grand Slam semi finalist since 2009. However, for me it wasn’t so much what he said (“First male semi finalist”) as how he said it. The beauty of Murray’s response – low key, matter-of-fact, immediate – was that it shows his respect for and interest in women’s tennis is innate. He’s prepared to speak up about gender equality, but he just makes it a normal part of conversation. And guess what? Men are equally as important as women in this process. 

That’s why I was pleased that it was my husband who saw the advert for Clare Balding’s documentary and wanted to see it. And that he chose to switch on the England versus Scotland game (and probably watched it more closely than I did). Creating change is about the big things, but mostly it’s about the little things… having access to high level women’s sport in the media, valuing it in its own right (which is why comments about where Serena would be ranked in men’s tennis don’t even warrant a discussion),  choosing to watch it and talking about it afterwards.

Breaking down social barriers does need grand gestures and big examples to be made at times, but genuine social change is about challenging our conscious and subconscious biases. We need more column inches on Laura Kenny and photos of Serena Williams and young footballers who aspire to be like the England Lionesses just as much as Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but we also have to keep pulling ourselves up on our ingrained attitudes and the words we typically express them with.

If we don’t do these things, it’s too easy to hide behind statistics about positive change, whether in terms of participation, coverage or opportunity. Gender equality will only become a genuine social norm once our thoughts and values, and the way we express them all become reprogrammed.
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BBC Sports Personality / Performance / Popularity Awards: What is it really about?

spoty-review

As always, the BBC Sports Personality Awards show has thrown up some serious debate. A quick look through social media, digital or print news and you’ll see hundreds of opinions on last night’s show expressed with varying degrees of class, open-mindedness and decency.

The purpose of this article isn’t to add my two pennies’ worth to the ‘Leicester City vs GB Women’s Hockey’ argument (although I will refer to it), but to examine why awards like this always seem to elicit so much discussion.

The obvious answer is that the nature of the award gives everyone a reason to have an opinion. It’s fundamentally difficult to challenge why someone has won a league trophy or a ‘Golden Boot’. This silverware is given out on the basis of statistics, so our opinions don’t come into play. However, when we try to answer subjective questions about who is ‘the best,’ our own biases – and perhaps more importantly, our emotions – start to affect the answer.

This is largely why it’s basically impossible to find a definitive answer to single-sport debates like who should win the Ballon D’Or or ‘Federer vs Nadal vs Djokovic vs Murray’. The team or individual we support, the qualities we particularly value or admire in a player, our age, nationality and gender may also impact (consciously or subconsciously) on our preferences, and indeed on the strength of our feelings.

We also love to try and decide who is the greatest of all time, but how can we truly compare Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams while also trying to account for changes in technology, equipment, professionalism, social attitudes and different contemporary competitors? These variables also make it trickier to compare the achievements of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt if we look beyond the simple statistics.

The Telegraph recently published the results of a project titled, ‘The UK’s Greatest Ever Sportsperson’. This throws another factor into the mix: how do we compare performers from different sports?

Our feelings about the Sports Personality Awards are complicated further by the fact that (despite its name) I’m not sure anyone really knows exactly what many of the SPOTY trophies are based on anymore. Is it about personality? Performance? Popularity?

So let’s have a quick look at the debate about the 2016 SPOTY Team of the Year Award. It’s difficult to directly compare the achievements of Leicester City across the course of a 38-game season against the GB Hockey Women’s 100% win record and gold medal in Rio. Leicester were 5000/1 to win the Premier League before the season started; GB women were around 9/1 to win Olympic gold. Their journeys and their challenges were very different, but both of these teams have achieved amazing things in the last 12 months. Incidentally, so has every other team that was nominated for this SPOTY award.

The thing I haven’t read anywhere in the debate this morning is that both Leicester and GB Hockey have achieved their success based on similar qualities: Trust in one another, commitment to and belief in a shared goal, and a few outstanding individual performances set against the backdrop of teamwork. Rather than comparing the differences between their achievements, wouldn’t it be great if a few more people could identify the similarities?

Both teams will also face challenges in their quests to match the heights they have done in 2016. Leicester have struggled to get close to their performances last season in this year’s Premier League, but have done well in the Champions League so far. The GB Hockey women will have to manage retirements, new players and the challenge of replicating their success in upcoming tournaments with the unfamiliar tag of ‘favourites’.

The slightly muted reaction of Leicester City’s players on winning the award seems to have contributed to some of the negative reactions. This may be contentious, but to be completely honest, I don’t regard their reaction as being particularly important. You’d like to think the award means something to the recipient, but it isn’t given out based on who wants it the most.

Meanwhile, I’m sure a few criticisms about the result are based on the fact this might have been an opportunity to buck the trend and celebrate a female sports team. However, I think SPOTY is one of the few mass-broadcast sports ‘events’ that is gender-balanced and I’d argue social change isn’t the role of this particular award.

Ultimately, both teams have been extremely inspiring and exciting examples in their sports and beyond, and I have no doubt that not a single player would trade the Premier League trophy or an Olympic gold medal for the title of SPOTY Team of the Year.

Magic, Gods and the Baying Mob

ryder-cup-crowds

I can’t quite make my mind up about golf. I’m sure it’s partly because I’m not very good… not too shabby with a 7-iron or a putter, absolutely abysmal with a driver. I’m vaguely hoping that once I’m at a stage of my life where breaking into a run is less appealing, I might get really good at it. I enjoy going to the driving range, but I think golf clubs tend to be pretty snooty. I quite like watching the majors on TV when they’ve reached the exciting stages, but other than that… meh. But the Ryder Cup. That’s different. The Ryder Cup has a bit of magic.

We talk about fans worshipping sporting gods, but without trying to draw a comparison that’s too sweeping, maybe there’s another parallel between sport and religion: there seems to be an extraordinary power created by the feeling of being part of something much greater than yourself. I’m not in the least bit religious, but I can appreciate the significance of the sense of community and a shared value system that religion creates for many people.
In a sports context, anyone who plays in a team sport can probably already identify with similar feelings to an extent, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that sportspeople who often compete on an individual basis can often bring out the best in themselves when they are representing a team, country or continent. Andy Murray is Britain’s Davis Cup saviour, Team GB’s Olympic athletes are driven to success as part of something bigger, and the cycling domestique commits repeated acts of self-sacrifice in order to help a team mate to glory.

Of course, an athlete has to truly buy into it if it is to make a difference to their performance. During Rio 2016, former GB sprinter Jeanette Kwakye wrote an interesting article about the changing mindset of the British Athletics relay teams, noting that in order to succeed, the GB women had recognized the need to, “Park their egos [and] personal ambitions and come together with one objective only.” I believe quite strongly that you can’t fake this: you might be part of the team, but is the team truly a part of you?

As example of this, and to bring us back to golf, some have criticized Tiger Woods for failing to truly commit to Team USA and subsequently never really performing at the Ryder Cup. Conversely, Justin Rose was one of only a few golfers openly passionate about being part of the Olympic Games (and in his case, Team GB), and his charge to a Rio 2016 gold medal subsequently seemed to have a feeling of slightly magical inevitability about it.
So is it possible to define the ingredient that makes an atmosphere become particularly special? Sometimes the size, importance or long-standing tradition of an event alone can create a special atmosphere, such as the final of a Grand Slam, the Ashes, the FA Cup final or the Super Bowl. I’d also argue that there are examples in lower level sport, because emotional meaning isn’t just created by the scale of an event. Having said that, more often than not, a crowd creates an atmosphere – and that’s why although there may be a gulf between the relative performance levels of competitors, the atmosphere at the Olympic 100m final and the London Marathon isn’t so very different.

Crowds use many kinds of marker as powerful indicators of allegiance. Patriotism and a sense of identity are indicated by coloured clothing, chanting, cheering, jeering and applause. Crowds vary across sports and between events – and it’s pretty easy to identify the differences between the polite applause of snooker, football stadium chanting and the pub-like atmosphere of darts. The traditions of a sport or competition tend to dictate the expected crowd behaviours, and this is where the Ryder Cup becomes an interesting example of an accepted – but disputed – challenge to the norm.

Many Ryder Cup commentators declare themselves to be opposed to overly vocal crowds and some of the players getting involved in (or in some cases, fuelling) the atmosphere. There are undoubtedly conversations to be had about the lengths spectators should be allowed to go – because there is of a course a fine but distinct line between ‘banter’ and abuse. However, my overriding feeling is that golf might just be on the verge of a big decision about the direction it wants to take as a sport. The Ryder Cup – and arguably the Olympics – have drawn some great performances from players who have already established themselves as great golfers, but there seems to be something extra in these atmospheres that has the power to create the special or spectacular. As well as considering different formats and how it can broaden its appeal from a sport-specific perspective, maybe top-level golf would do well to consider the emotional experience and attachment of the crowd too.

 

Challenging tradition can be dangerous ground, even when it seems obvious logically or even ethically that change is needed – just look at how difficult it can be to implement technology in football or contest antiquated rules about women’s golf club membership. Rightly or wrongly, there is also almost always opposition to change. Maybe it wouldn’t be sustainable for the Hazeltine atmosphere to be reproduced at every event across the golf calendar – for the players or the crowds. Tradition and etiquette can’t just be thrown out of the window either, because they are part of any sport’s identity. And most of all, perhaps the magic of the Ryder Cup lies partly in the fact that it’s unusual… because can something be as special if it becomes the norm?

 

N.B. It’s Women’s Sports Week. Please don’t think I’m writing about the Davis Cup and the Ryder Cup without due consideration to their equally worthy women’s equivalents. I have no doubt that the Fed Cup and Solheim Cup hold just as much meaning to the incredible sportswomen who play in them and supporters who watch them compete, and I hope that in the not too distant future the media and the world of sport itself makes it a bit easier to use them as widely known examples when I’m discussing topics like this one…

Giant Killings and Unlikely Heroes: Are Shock Results Good for Sport?

Sporting Shocks

Sporting shocks remind us that even the most successful players and teams aren’t invincible. The possibility of an unexpected result gives us a reason to back the underdog and a chance to celebrate the against-the-odds story. Sometimes we can be most inspired by the seemingly unrealistic dreams of an unlikely hero, because they make us feel like anything is possible.

Last week, my Surbiton team lost a domestic hockey game for the first time in over 18 months. It wasn’t a top of the table clash or a playoff final – we were defeated in the second round of our National Cup defence by Barnes, a side who play several league divisions below us. Of course, this is what the ‘magic of a cup run’ is all about: David vs Goliath, giant killings and the underdog progressing against the odds. This result might not make headline news outside the world of English hockey, but it’s definitely an outcome that surprised a few people.

On a wider scale, a shock can become the unforgettable or defining moment of a sports event. Despite the All Blacks’ record breaking victory, in some ways the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be best remembered for Japan’s astonishing last-gasp victory over South Africa in the pool stages. Germany’s 2014 Football World Cup victory was amazing, but I think I’ll remember it more for their 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi final. What about Greece winning Euro 2004? They started the tournament as 150-1 outsiders who had never won a game in a major tournament.

Of course sometimes a little shock can be the precursor to a seismic shift in sporting power. There’s a reason we talk about new stars ‘exploding’ onto the scene. Roger Federer had to start somewhere… when he beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, perhaps it seemed like a tremor. In the following decade, that tremor became a tsunami of Grand Slam titles and tour victories.

Shocks definitely provide some good material for headline writers. Unless a lucky punter wins a huge, unexpected payout, most of the time they’re not too bad for the bookies either. And for a player or team who wins against the odds, it might just be the best experience they ever have in a sporting arena.

Of course, if you’re on the wrong end of a shock result, it’s not a very nice feeling. In addition to the disappointment of defeat, you often have to deal with a bit of embarrassment too. However, I believe that the greatest sportspeople are humble in victory and gracious in defeat. So learn lessons and try not to let it happen again – but when you shake hands with the opponent who has just handed you a shock defeat, look them in the eye and mean it when you congratulate them.

There’s a kind of raw beauty to the feeling of shocking yourself. This can happen at every level of sport. You might surprise yourself by managing to finish a tough work out, by reaching the top of a hill without getting off your bike, by completing a run more quickly than you thought you could. At Olympic level, I’ll never forget Kelly Holmes’ face when it dawned on her that she had won 800m gold at Athens 2004. More recently, the wide-eyed disbelief of lightweight rowers Sophie Hosking and Katherine Copeland when they realised, “We’ve won the Olympics!” was a defining image of London 2012.

For me, that’s why sport needs shocks. It’s not about headlines or big wins at the bookies. It’s about how seemingly unbelievable outcomes can make us feel, irrespective of whether we are watching or competing. It’s about those moments that make your heart jump and your eyes pop out of your head. Sometimes magic happens when you least expect it.

The Not-So-Easy Life of a Hockey WAG (Part II)

the no.1 fan

A year on from my World Cup adventures in The Hague, I’m getting ready for another fortnight of nerves and excitement in my capacity as a hockey WAG. This time around, I’m not able to travel over to watch in the stadium and to be quite honest, I’m not actually sure if this is better or worse. A few quiet days at home since the boys went to Belgium has given me some time to consider the pros and cons of cheering the boys on from here instead.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first…
It just doesn’t feel like I’m supporting properly if I’m not actually there. Having said that, I’ll be honest – I’m not really much of a cheerleader. I’ll probably make more noise watching in my own living room than I would in the stadium, so I don’t expect my vocal support will be overly missed.

I’ll miss the camaraderie of supporting alongside the parents and families of the lads… I’m sure I’ll be able to coerce a few friends and fellow WAGs into watching the games together on TV, but I’ll miss being part of the regular supporters gang and of course hanging around to see the boys after each game like a starstruck teenager at a pop concert. Don’t worry, the hero worship stops pretty abruptly when they start filtering out in dodgy-looking lycra recovery leggings (or worse, un-showered).

On the plus side…
I’ll save myself a bit of money. To be a fully paid up member of the travelling WAG club, you have to budget for planes, trains, beers and waffles (unavoidable refreshment choices when in Belgium – it’d be rude not to). Sitting on the sofa drinking multiple cups of tea – or something stronger if required to celebrate or commiserate – is cheaper and doesn’t require a pre-planned half time queuing strategy.

I won’t have to worry about wearing a raincoat and sensible shoes. I am at extremely low risk of sunburn or being soaked by a water cannon. If I want to, I can watch the boys play at 3pm on Sunday in my PJs and no one will judge me. I mean, I’ll obviously be wearing my GB shirt and waving a Union Jack throughout, I’m just saying I could…

 
In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter where I watch: if the boys do well, I’ll be just as delighted whichever side of the English Channel I’m sitting on. I’ve watched shootouts in the stadium and on TV and I can honestly say I was just as nervous (or spun in a more positive way, just as confident) both times. My role for the next couple of weeks is to be there in the background, supporting the team and letting the boy concentrate on his hockey safe in the knowledge that I’m watering the garden and keeping the cat alive. Behind every great hockey player is a… great WAG?

 

Good luck to the GB Hockey Boys!
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Why Do We Keep Forgiving Sport?

Why Do We Keep Forgiving Sport?

[*Edited version 11th November 2015*]
Another week, another explosion of shocking back page headlines. Athletics has faced some pretty big doping scandals in the past, but perhaps the latest will prove to be the sport’s biggest challenge yet. The possible scope of Russian drug-taking and corruption within the top levels of track and field governance are yet to be fully understood. New IAAF president Seb Coe certainly has a job on his hands. The reactions of both athletes and fans to negative stories like this range from shock and disbelief to outrage and anger. So why do we keep forgiving sport for its multitude of sins?

I’m a long way from perfect, but I’d like to believe that most of the time I can differentiate between right and wrong. However, when I think about some of the sportspeople I grew up idolising and many of the sports I continue to buy tickets and a Sky Sports subscription to watch, I realise I have sometimes been quick to put my moral compass to one side. My two biggest sporting heroes as a kid were Eric Cantona and Linford Christie. Despite his glittering football career, Cantona might be best known for kung-fu kicking someone in the crowd having been sent off against Crystal Palace in 1995. Christie won Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth sprint titles, but ended his career under the shadow of a positive drugs test for nandrolone. The problem for me is that I can’t really undo Christie’s Olympic gold at Barcelona 1992 as the first sports event I remember watching. I can’t forget the 10-year old me turning my collar up Cantona-style for football practice or attempting to run my 100m races without blinking or breathing, because that’s how Linford did it.

In the wider world of sport, the extent of doping in cycling exploded into the public consciousness a couple of years back. Perhaps we haven’t forgiven Lance Armstrong, but more road bikes and Lycra shorts are flying off the shelves than ever before. Meanwhile, FIFA has clearly been involved in some pretty dodgy dealing (to put it mildly) around World Cup bidding. Rumours abound that the IOC isn’t exactly squeaky clean on the bidding front either. This time last year, Luis Suarez was sent home from the World Cup in disgrace having bitten an opponent – he’s now being touted as one of Barca’s heroes. Almost three years ago, Oscar Pistorius won his sixth Paralympic gold medal – he’s now in jail in South Africa for culpable homicide.

The paragraph above illustrates that it can be all too easy to group sporting ‘sins’ clumsily together. I’m certainly not suggesting that all the examples I’ve cited can be directly compared – and I’m not trying to judge what is or isn’t forgivable. But each in its own way calls into question why we invest so much time, energy, emotion and money into sport given the depth of its darker side. What is this magical hold that sport seems to have over us?

It’s partly down to the fact that we love having something to talk about. There’s something inescapably satisfying about sitting on the sofa / in the pub / at a computer having a moan about how let down we feel, how sad it is, how we can’t believe this has happened. Half the time it’s not even gossip or a debate, everyone is simply regurgitating facts (and ‘facts’!) they have read somewhere, with a little emotion added for good measure. Talking about sport makes us feel more engaged in it. Put simply, talking about the good, bad and ugly of sport is fun.

Then there’s the concept of role models. There is often an expectation that sportspeople at the top of their respective games should be good human beings as well as good performers. I think this expectation creates an interesting debate in itself, but that’s not for now. There’s no doubt in my mind that the visibility of top-level sportspeople makes them role models to at least some degree. Ultimately, the majority of people who play, watch or coach sport want to see the best of the best. Performances on the field can give us something to aspire to and marvel at. That’s why Luis Suarez has been banned for alleged racist comments and for biting three fellow professionals, but is still allowed to play: he’s damn good at football, so people want to watch him.

Competition and the ambitions of people to become the best have created powerful and inspirational displays of physicality and human achievement across the history of sport. But in raising the stakes for performance, money, greed and fame have also become ingrained in the DNA of many sports. Fundamentally, we are all flawed and it stands to reason that sport is no different. My sister rightly pointed out to me that when bad things happen, it isn’t sport that’s in the wrong – it’s the people who play it and run it. However, to me, sport IS people. They inspire us, astonish us and motivate us… as well as sometimes leaving us disappointed and let down. We accept that people aren’t perfect – and therefore I think we accept that sport will never be perfect either.

Greed, corruption, cheating and some generally questionable morality are displayed just as regularly in sport as they are in ‘real life’. However, because sport seems to occupy a unique place in our social consciousness, we cut it a little more slack. Even when our most revered sporting events turn out to be run by a bunch of money-grabbing bad guys, or when our perceptions of what superhuman performance means are threatened, we can’t imagine life without them. I actually think there’s an argument that sport – whether we are watching, playing or talking about it – allows us to escape these same vices and corruptions in other spheres of life. We forgive sport to let us forget other things.

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[From first edit, June 2015]
Sport didn’t exactly cover itself in glory last week. Serena Williams, Stan Wawrinka, Women’s Sport Week and all-conquering Barcelona may beg to differ – but FIFA’s corruption, Sepp Blatter’s resignation and claims of doping in athletics on a BBC Panorama programme stole most of the newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Women’s Sport Week: What Does Equality Really Mean?

Women in sport

I’m going to kick off with a controversial-sounding sentence: I don’t like the existence of Women’s Sport Week. Don’t judge me just yet – I’ll explain what I mean by that in the course of this blog. But fundamentally, I wish it wasn’t happening and hopefully in the not too distant future we might talk about it in the past tense. “Do you remember ‘Women’s Sport Week’? It seems crazy we used to have that…”

If you haven’t yet noticed the extra column inches in the sports pages and the flurry of social media activity focused on sportswomen, perhaps you need a quick introduction to what the week is all about:

 ‘Women’s Sport Week (1-7 June 2015) is an opportunity for everybody to celebrate, raise awareness and increase the profile of women’s sport across the UK.’
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/get-inspired/32916625

Essentially, this is another attempt to bridge the enormous gap between men and women’s sport. I probably should talk about ‘gaps’ in the plural – because there are lots of areas of inequality: media coverage, sponsorship, general perceptions, prize money, participation, the opportunities available in professional sport… and so the list goes on. I have a real internal battle about the increasing work to improve gender equality in sport. My idealistic side is what leads me to say I wish Women’s Sports Week (and other campaigns like it) didn’t exist. I suppose it’s really down to the fact that I wish we didn’t need them.

Sometimes it’s also about context. Tennis is a good example of this. I’m sure it’s true that Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic get more media interest because they are men. But it’s also because for the last decade, these four players in particular have generated amazing performance levels and fierce rivalries in the men’s game. Conversely, in women’s tennis, Serena Williams is just better than everyone else. Maria Sharapova – probably the second best player of this generation – has a 2/17 win/loss record against Serena, and hasn’t actually beaten her since their first two matches in 2004. There just isn’t quite the same drama. And so whilst I do want equality, I also want this to be determined by the quality of the tennis matches played and the battles between contemporary greats. Maybe in the next generation of players, four highly competitive, great tennis women will emerge to help bridge that gap for the right reasons.

It can also be about how easy it is to find and celebrate a female role model. This is of course largely down to the media and who they decide to dedicate those column inches and photographs to. Jessica Ennis-Hill is one of only a few genuine world superstars in British Athletics and competes in a discipline where we have historically been successful with Olympic gold medallists like Denise Lewis and Dame Mary Peters. It probably also helps that she seems to be a down-to-earth woman, she’s attempting a comeback after having her first baby, she doesn’t tend to stir up controversy, and she’s not exactly struggling in the looks department. But hang on – should women have to tick so many boxes to actually be seen in the media? Again, I’m a bit torn on this. I’m glad Ennis-Hill is talked about and regarded as a role model, but I wish I could believe she would be as popular and as famous if she was a bit more ‘bad ass’ and a bit less pretty.

Maybe I’m being narrow-minded to think that what a girl looks like when she plays sport doesn’t affect other women’s perceptions and likelihood to participate themselves. But for me, rosy cheeks, bloody knees and sweating don’t put me off. In my eyes, these things don’t make me less feminine or more masculine, they’re just one little part of a thing I do. Campaigns like ‘This Girl Can’ are trying to break down these barriers and hopefully getting more women involved in exercise will have a knock-on effect in some of the other areas of inequality. Last week, The Telegraph ran a feature on the GB Women’s Hockey team, which was largely based around a glamour photoshoot of several of the players. Whilst it was supposed to be a positive reflection on women’s sport and women’s hockey, this type of article remains a double-edged sword in so many ways. Dressing up to increase the profile, sponsorship and coverage of women’s sport may be important for growth; but it also reinforces the stereotypes that causes so many of these inequalities in the first place. As a friend of mine said,

“Can you imagine Diego Costa being asked to wear make up for a photoshoot and then telling him it will help broaden his appeal?”

It’s particularly difficult when we are pushing for equality on so many fronts. What do we actually want: More girls playing sport at grass roots level? As many column inches written on Arsenal Ladies as on Arsenal men? Top female sports stars to get the same recognition as their male counterparts irrespective of how many sets they play or their level of performance? Girls to take part and embrace getting sweaty, or girls to take part to prove you can do sport and still look classically pretty? Some of the battles we’re fighting don’t completely make sense to me, but that’s because I don’t believe all of them are about ‘equality’ per se.

The whole point is that genuine equality in sport should be about every kind of diversity, not having to push or overemphasise a given demographic. Clearly female sport has a long way to go, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that girls and women are the only ones who suffer from inequality. True ‘sport for all’ would mean that gender, disability, race, sexuality, religion, body image, age and culture don’t negatively influence anyone’s access to or experience of sport, or the way that is perceived by other people.

Of course, this is all going to be pretty difficult to achieve. Before the haters tell me this isn’t a reason not to try, I’m not saying Women’s Sport Week isn’t necessary at the moment and that our attempts to find equality aren’t important – they clearly are. I accept that sometimes unfairness, prejudice and bias are broken down only by these same qualities being applied in the opposite direction. I’ll enjoy seeing a few more successful, talented and inspirational women receive some well-deserved and important media attention this week. I’m just looking forward to a day when we don’t need to have a special week for women’s sport – because in the end, we are just running around, sweating, puffing, throwing, jumping, winning, losing and taking part too.

 

 

Click here to learn about Women’s Sport Week 2015 and how you can get involved: https://www.womeninsport.org/wsw2015/