A sportswoman is many things; easily deterred is not one of them. So the fact that in 2014 female athletes receive only 7% newspaper coverage and 0.4% of all sport sponsorship money is being treated as an opportunity not a death-knell. That much was apparent at an unprecedented event in London this week which gathered England team captains, Olympians, Paralympians, broadcast chiefs, business leaders, sporting leaders, coaches and Clare Balding to put an end to such skewed statistics.
“Sport has the power to change the way women see themselves,” said Olympic gold medal rower, Anna Watkins, founding member of the Women’s Sport Trust which hosted the event.
“The status quo is not acceptable,” said Michel Van Der Bel, UK Vice President of Microsoft who sponsored the event. “This is about helping people and businesses realise their full potential. 70% of consumer spending is impacted by women. 50% of wealth is held by women.” You do the maths, he implied.
“It’s time to break the cycle that holds women’s sport back. The media blaming business for lack of sponsorship. Businesses blaming media for lack of coverage. We can intervene and I hold my hand up to be a captain of that change,” announced Fiona O’Hara, Managing Director, Accenture.
It was made clear by every speaker - male and female - including triple gold Paralympian Sophie Christiansen, Judy Murray, BTSport’s chief Simon Green and Jamie Brookes, MD of BNY Mellon who sponsor Boat Race (both sexes), that this is not a gender war.
The newly-imposed professional status for England football and cricket demonstrates the significant progress being made."
There might be gnashing of teeth in various neanderthal enclaves where women are seen solely as the bearers of children -- or lunch. But not everyone sees it that way.
It is, instead, a fresh assault on ancient, dust-covered thinking that would prefer women not to have muscles and, if they did by some regrettable oversight, certainly not to flex them.
Try telling that to Pamela Cookey, England netball captain, or Katy McLean, captain of the England rugby team, both of whom exude all the strength, humour, purpose and dedication that defines sporting leaders. All that and they both work full-time. Cookey as business manager for a sports trust and Mclean teaching reception class in a north-east primary school because captaining England on the rugby field is not yet deemed a professional job.
By contrast, the newly-imposed professional status for England football and cricket demonstrates the significant progress being made elsewhere. Cricket - which only allowed women to become members of the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1998 (after a threat to withhold money from them, but still) - has virtually revolutionised its thinking. Where once women were considered a contaminant, likely to discuss curtains instead of bowling actions, they are now celebrated as is Charlotte Edwards, only the second woman to be hailed by Wisden as an International Cricketer of the Year.
Not so long ago Arsenal Ladies were employed in the club laundry"
The FA flat-out banned women’s football in 1921 after they had drawn a crowd of 54,000 to Goodison Park and it gave their male counterparts the jitters. Not so long ago Arsenal Ladies were employed in the club laundry, washing Dennis Bergkamp’s shorts for their keep.
Now the FA rightly boasts that girl’s football is the third highest participation sport in the country and all things considered there is a very good chance that the next England team to hoist the World Cup will be female. With the semi-professional Women’s Super League televised nationally by BTSport, with international matches covered by the BBC, full-time training and superb sport science back up at clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool, the emergence of role models like England captain Steph Houghton and a growing base of young athletes who choose to play the game, this is not an ill-considered prediction.
In 2014 Charlotte Edwards was named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year.
Where it will leave the die-hard traditionalists is anyone’s guess: the old buffers who encounter a woman at work and are baffled by her lack of canapes.
They perhaps started to feel like an endangered species when British superwomen collared the medals and the headlines during the 2012 Games, but that doesn’t mean the objections will cease.
They will no doubt go on complaining that women are not being ladylike, but Clare Balding had an answer to that. Quoting Nora Ephron, she declaimed to a cheering audience: “I hope you find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”
#BeAGameChanger - Women’s Sport Trust in association with Microsoft - levelling the playing field for women’s sport - www.womenssporttrust.com/