2018 has been hailed the Year of the Woman as it marks 100 years since the Representation of People Act 1918 which allowed some women in the UK the right to vote. However given that we are amid a groundswell in sexual harassment claims globally, 2018 seems to have both celebrated the progression of society’s treatment of women whilst highlighting how far we still need to travel. Looking specifically at the world of sport, I’ll underline the progress that’s been made but also lead a chorus of derision and stark amazement at the disparity that still exists in plain sight.
Sport has always been gendered male perhaps due to the central role the body plays and the traditional archetypes of the athletic male hunter-gatherer and the child-bearing female homemaker. There is a long history of abhorrent treatment of women within sport. It wasn’t until 1960 that women were allowed to run distances over 200m as the IOC was convinced that their bodies could not cope with the strain. Similarly in 1921 the FA banned women from playing football on their pitches, as football was “quite unsuitable for females”.
Whilst we’d like to reassure ourselves that this mistreatment has been banished and applaud ourselves for the tremendous amount we’ve moved forward, the facts emulate through the comforting warmth of delusion. The 2012 Olympics were the first where women were able to compete in every event on the programme and statistics gathered by leading UK Charity Women in Sport show that between September 2011 and December 2013, women’s sport received just 0.4% of all reported UK sponsorship deals in sport.
Yes, in all this “doom and gloom” (truth telling) it is important to note things have progressed. This year more women’s sport is being broadcast more than ever before, more women are reaching professionalism in the UK and attendance is on the rise with a record 45,000 strong crowd at the FA Women’s Cup Final this year in comparison to the 4,998 that attended just five years prior. But equally, despite The England Roses (England Netball team) winning a Commonwealth Games Gold Medal in April, they are losing their funding as of August 2019. In 2017 Britain’s “Lionesses” made international headlines when they went further in the Women’s Euro 2017 than the men’s team for more than two decades…yet you can guess who gets paid more.
How do we fix it? Well the key factors attendance, media coverage and sponsorship all seem to co-exist in a dependant relationship, increase one and the others should follow suit. As such Sky Sports and the Sport’s Women’s Trust are launching a campaign this summer encouraging attendance called Show Up, which offers free tickets to a range of women’s sports. If we all start showing up for women’s sport perhaps we’ll get to a point where we’ll see the women playing football and the men teetering on impossibly high heels in the stands…given the Men’s England Football Team’s track record this could quite possibly be for the best.
Watch the full piece on Women in Sport on What’s Up TV this August on Sky One. The item covers the Netball Superleague and features interviews with Ex-England Netball Captain Pamela Cookey and Director of Wasps Netball Tamsin Greenway.