Women’s Sports Column

carney19 -31 December

In this last column of 2015, there are stories from cricket, football and horse racing, as well as a look at who got what in the New Year Honours.

In Australia, the inaugural WBBL is proving to be a big success. The early leaders are Heather Knight’s Hobart Hurricanes, with Brisbane Heat, who include Kate Cross and Lauren Winfield in their line-up, in second with the same points, but having played three games more.  There is still some way to go though, with the final on 24 January.  More updates in the next column.

The Women’s Super League is currently awash with transfers, the two biggest so far being goalkeeper Marie Hourihan’s move from Chelsea to Manchester City and a shock move for Karen Carney from Birmingham City to Chelsea.

The writing was perhaps on the wall for Hourihan who had seen the Swede, Hedvig Lindahl make the goalkeeping position for Chelsea her own last season.  She will still essentially be number two at City and will have to prove her mettle to oust England’s Karen Bardsley.

Karen Carney has agreed a two-year deal with the English champions.  Chelsea is a team rich with talent and will be keen to repeat their league and cup double in 2016.  Carney is undoubtedly an asset and manager Emma Hayes is obviously pleased to have made the signing.  In an interview with the BBC she said,

“Karen was a major target and a genuine world-class addition to the squad,

“She is a student of the game and brings additional leadership to our squad.

“I see Karen complementing the talent we already possess in the final third. All our attacking players will benefit hugely from her vision and passing.”

In a somewhat bizarre and more disturbing story from Italy, top women’s five-a-side team, Sporting Locri, based in Reggio Calabria in the Italian South, is considering disbanding after receiving a number of mafia-style threats.

Both the president and vice president of the club have received threats telling them to close the club or face the consequences.  The president, Ferdinando Armeni, has had his tyres slashed and threats made towards his three-year-old child.

The ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate is thought to be behind the threats.  At this moment club officials are still considering what course to take.

More history was made for female jockeys this week as 22-year-old Lizzie Kelly became the first woman to win a Grade One race over jumps in Britain.

She, and her mount, Tea for Two, won the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

After the race she told reporters: “It’s massive for me as a jockey to be able to say that I’ve won a Grade One. There’s always people with stories where they nearly achieve something, but I’ve done it, and we’ve done it as a family which means a hell of a lot more. It’s important for people to be able to see that we can do it. We [female jockeys] are getting somewhere, people are becoming more accepting of it.”

It has been a landmark year for female jockeys all round.  Michelle Payne became the first winner of the Melbourne Cup in November, making the headlines with her post-race interview,

“It’s such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off. Everyone else can get stuffed [who] think women aren’t good enough.”

Katie Walsh won the Irish Grand National in April and in August Ascot saw the all-female team comprising Hayley Turner, Sammy Jo Bell and Emma-Jayne Wilson won the Shergar Cup against all-male opposition.

And finally, you can tell if it has been a big year for women in sport when you see who has received an award in the New Year Honours.  So here we go:

Heather Rabbatts has been made a Dame for her service to football and equality.

A CBE goes to Annamarie Phelps, chair of British Rowing for services to her sport.

OBEs have been awarded to Sue Barker (moving up from an MBE), Catherine Sabin, for services to Tennis, and Chrissie Wellington for services to sport and charity.

The sporting MBEs go to Yvonne Anderson, for services to the Special Olympics, Janice Eaglesham for services to disability sport, Heather Galbraith, for services to equestrianism; Pamela Gallant, for services to people with special needs; England football captain, Stephanie Houghton, for services to football; Gaynor Jones, for service to golf and the development of women’s golf in Wales; Dianne McMillan, for services to swimming and disability awareness; Tracey Neville, for services to netball; Jacqui Oatley, for services to broadcasting and diversity in sport; Anne Whitworth, for services to hockey in the north-east and Fara Williams, for services to women’s football and charity.

Happy New Year to everyone and let’s all look forward to a 2016 filled with fabulous women’s sport!

 

 

Into (sporting) battle in 2016!

UN

I’m not given to military metaphor, but in this case it’s forgivable as this is what we advocates of women’s sport have to do in 2016.

We’ve come so far this year, but I’m sick of saying “….will be the year we finally break through into the mainstream” and then it doesn’t happen.

This year I have profiled (and met) so many brilliant individuals, organisations, media platforms and crusaders getting the women’s sports word out there, but we need more.

We need to get across two vital things:

WOMEN: it’s ok (in fact it’s brilliant) to play, officiate, coach, administrate, run and write about ANY sport you want

WOMEN: it’s ok (in fact it’s brilliant) to watch on TV (if you’re lucky), read about or support in person any women’s sport you want.

And until we get those two messages across we will not achieve even a modicum of equality.

Unfortunately there is no doubt we still face discrimination, derision, even downright hostility to our aims and the vicious circle is still with us:

diagram

But we CAN break into this circle. Every day individuals and organisations are trying their hearts out to do this.

I Know I would say this, being a journalist, but I still think that the media is the key, There are so many fantastic platforms for women’s sport out there – see my earlier article for details. But, in a sense, this is ghettoising women’s sport. You can get the news and results, fixtures etc., that you want, but you have specifically to go to women’s sports platforms to do it.

Things won’t change in the populace at large until women’s sport gets far more mainstream coverage. And this, I feel, is how we have to break the vicious circle.

Hold our mainstream media to account.

Women’s sports journalists – pitch, pitch and pitch again.

Once we begin to gain the coverage we deserve, everything else will come. In these straitened times we cannot rely on the foresight of companies such as SSE (sponsoring the women’s FA cup) or Helena Morrissey/Newton (sponsoring the Boat Race); we have to go out and get it.

It’s infuriating that again and again we have to prove the worth of our “product”. But we do. And the good thing is, we can.

So, let’s do it. Let’s get together and show the man and woman on the street that we mean business, because I can’t keep saying “20… was the year we nearly made it”.

If you’re interested in discussing how we can go forward together please get in touch. I would be happy to hear from anyone passionate about or involved in any sport.

This is, honestly, my last rant for 2015.   Wishing my readers and followers a Happy Christmas. Bring on 2016 – I’m up for the fight, are you?

The Women’s Sports Column

rugby ball

12-18 December

This week’s stories come from tennis, cricket, badminton, cycling, rugby union and speed skating

But first!  It’s official – women are at the forefront of sports participation!  Sport England began their Active People survey in 2005/06 and in this time the number of people playing sport over a period of 12 months rose by 1.65 million to 15.74 million.  And the number of women playing sport is increasing faster than men.

7.01 million women aged 16 years or over played sport once a week this year, an increase of 703,800 since 2005/06.  The biggest winner seems to be running and athletics in general (must help that there are plenty of good role models).

The increase has also been partly put down to the success of the This Girl Can campaign.  This is good news for everyone who put so much effort into making this campaign so visible, widespread and popular.

Plenty of news from the women’s tennis world this week – not that you’d know it from the mainstream press.  British number two, Heather Watson has split with her coach of two years, Diego Veronelli.   Veronelli cited his inability to commit to the up to 40 weeks of travelling per year as the reason for the split.  He has returned to Buenos Aires to be with his young family.

Andy Murray will be employing Amélie Mauresmo as his number one coach again in 2016.  Mauresmo took leave to give birth to her first child this year and Jonas Bjorkman stepped in to fill the vacancy.  But Murray has decided that he wants Mauresmo back on his team in the New Year.  It is thought that she will be principal coach, working 22-24 weeks during the year, but Murray is still looking for an assistant.

Serena Williams was named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year for 2015 this week.  She is only the third individual woman (i.e., not on a team) to be given the honour since its inception in 1954 and the first since Mary Decker in 1983.

Needless to say, the award has not gone without comment and controversy.  Firstly, apparently many were dismayed that a racehorse (!) American Pharaoh didn’t win the coveted title.

Brian Zipse, editor of Horse Racing Nation tweeted, “Very disappointed to see Sports Illustrated editors ignored the fans vote, and chose Serena Williams over American Pharaoh”.

But Serena fans have fought back.  One tweeted:

 “My bad. Since when did the definition of a ‘person’ constitute having four legs and cannot talk? #Serena.”

If that wasn’t enough, there was then controversy over the image of Williams enthroned on the front cover of Sports Illustrated.  Debate raged as to whether she had been airbrushed (particularly around her muscular thighs).  Both the magazine and Williams herself have denied it, but doubts remain.  Williams won 53 of her 56 matches this year and was world number one throughout.

She has been incredible all year, just failing to complete a calendar Grand Slam when she suffered a shock loss in the semi-final of the US Open to Roberta Vinci in September.  It’s an award long overdue and the very fact that a woman has won and appears in something other than the swimsuit issue is something to celebrate.

The ECB has announced that 19 players have been awarded central contracts for the 2016-17 season.  The only new name is Middlesex batter Fran Wilson, who has stepped up from the performance squad, where she has been impressive for the last 18 months.

2016 will be a busy year with overseas tours to South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka, as well as the World Twenty20 in India and a home series against Pakistan.

Gabby and Chris Adcock have become the first British badminton players to win a title at the World Superseries finals.   They beat third seeds Ko Sung-hyun and Kim Ha –na from South Korea, 21-14, 21-17 in Dubai.

This was their first win over the South Koreans in four attempts.

Chris Adcock said “The Koreans have been superb all year. We really wanted to try and put right what we didn’t do against them in the past so to come through with the win is amazing.”

Emma Pooley has announced that she is to return to cycling in order to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.  Pooley, 33, who retired in 2014, is aiming to be picked for the time trial. She may also support Lizzie Armistead in the road race.   Pooley recognises her selection is not a given.  Cycling is a sport in which Britain currently excels and with an abundance of talent, the competition will be fierce:

“If I can prove to both myself and the GB team selectors that I have the capacity to win the time trial in Rio, I’ll compete for selection for the Olympic team – I’m happy knowing I won’t get selected unless I really do have the potential to win.”

The RFU has announced that there will be two sets of play-offs in the Women’s Rugby Premiership at the end of the season.  Keep your wits about you as this is explained!

There will be one to decide the title, as is the case in the Aviva Premiership, but there will also be one to decide who is relegated.  Fifth plays eighth and sixth plays seventh.  The winners from the two ties will compete for a shield for the bottom half of the table (!).

The losers will play each other and the loser of this will play the Championship (second tier) winner to see who will finally be in the Premiership next year.  If you haven’t lost the will to live after reading that, the sports column will ensure that the results are brought to you in January.

And finally, British speed skater, Charlotte Gilmartin won 1500m bronze at the short track World Cup in Shanghai this week.  This was her first medal on the World Cup circuit in her first World Cup A final.

No column next week (Happy Christmas to one and all), but hoping to be back the week following.

The Women’s Sports Column

5-11 December

This week sees stories from rugby union, tennis, swimming, judo, hockey and cricket.

There was a first for Varsity rugby this week. The annual women’s Oxford v Cambridge match took place at Twickenham for the first time, in its 29th year.

Cambridge Women’s RUFC President and tight head prop, Katie Holmes said,

‘This decision puts us on a par with the men’s match and, more importantly, forges stronger links between the two sections at both Clubs. This is a hugely historic step for the game of rugby at Oxford and Cambridge.’

It kicked off before the men’s match, but in the end it was not much of a contest with Cambridge running out 52-0 winners, with Alice Middleton and Anna Wilson amongst the scorers with three tries each.

A 23-year old rugby player has died this week after suffering a head injury druing a game. Lily Partridge had previously suffered “a couple” of concussions, said her club, Exonian Ladies. She had, however, taken the required month off before returning to the game, and had been cleared to play by doctors. Lily collapsed on the pitch on Sunday 6 December and life support was switched off on Monday. The RFU is investigating.

Johanna Konta has ended her excellent 2015 as British Number One. She takes over from Heather Watson, who has had an up and down year with periods of injury and loss of form. Konta made a real breakthrough this year when she got to the last 16 of the US Open as a qualifier. After her defeat to Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon she went on a streak of winning 20 out of 21 matches, which has taken her to 48 in the world.

Also in tennis, Laura Robson has decided against taking up her protected ranking entry into the Australian Open in January. Since being out for 17 months with a wrist injury she has only participated in eight tournaments and has slipped to 555 in the world. She can only use her protected ranking to enter one more Grand Slam and it is thought she may use it instead for the French Open at the end of May.

Jazz Carlin bagged two golds at the European Short Course Championships in Israel this week. Her first victory was in the 800m freestyle and the second an amazing win over Katinka Hosszu from Hungary in the 400m freestyle. The winning margin was just 0.03 seconds.

Olympic judo silver medallist Gemma Gibbons achieved another one of her goals this week when she became the first British woman to win a medal at the Tokyo Grand Slam. She won a bronze in the     -78kg contest, beating Japanese fighter Ruika Sato by a waza-ari in the last minute of the bout.

Great Britain’s women have gone out at the quarter-final stage of the World Hockey League Finals in Argentina. They lost 2-1 to New Zealand in a tight game. New Zealand had most of the pressure, but it wasn’t until the second quarter that they took the lead through Anita Punt.

GB must have thought they had earned a penalty shoot-out when Helen Richardson-Walsh equalised with a penalty stroke with only six minutes to go.

However, it was not to be when with just 68 seconds on the clock Olivia Merry put the ball past goalkeeper Maddie Hinch to take the game. Hinch seemed to gesture that she lost the ball in the sun.

The team has still had an impressive year. They have now secured their place at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and, of course, won gold at the European Championships in London in August.

In cricket, the draw for the groups and the of the World Twenty20 2016 has finally been made.

  • Group A – Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Ireland
  • Group B – England, West Indies, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

The final will be at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens in a double-header with the men’s on 3 April. There has been a big hike in prize money for the women going up 122% to $400,000 (£264,000). There is still a way to go to match the men’s prize money though, which stands at $5.6m (£3.7m). The women’s tournament begins on 15 March 2016.

And finally, Clare Connor, once quite outspoken, but since becoming Head of Women’s Cricket at the ECB has retreated back into the establishment, got her groove back this week when she tweeted:

clare

Women’s Sport: there’s no time for back slapping – get beyond the bubble

free kick 4

I’m sorry if this sounds a bit bah humbug during this festive period, but I am not happy.

It’s awards time, nostalgia time, time for looking back at 2015 for the great progress made in women’s sport: more television coverage than ever before, more radio coverage than ever before, FA Cup at Wembley, Varsity Boat Race, Lionesses, EA Sports FIFA 2016 featuring women’s national teams,  and generally more recognition of women’s achievements in sport, etc, etc.

One of my favourite memories of the year is attending the FA Cup Final at Wembley and seeing numerous big beefy male Chelsea supporters cheering their female team onto the pitch – it actually brought a proud tear to my eye.

Several great campaigns started this year: This Girl Can, Cover the Athlete, What if…? and Women’s Sports Week.

But I fear we are bound, once more, to be looking back through rose-tinted spectacles.

This has also been the year when Mike Selvey, amongst others, seriously asked whether women should be playing test match cricket at all.  As I put it in my article for WSUK, when my indignation was at its peak,

“Women aren’t suited to the longer game, apparently.  They should give it up and stick to what they’re good at (I wasn’t sure if bed and kitchen had been edited out of the end of this theory, but let’s not be too cynical). “

It has been the year when Susie Wolff has had to give up her formula 1 dream, because

“There was very little opportunity to carry on in Formula 1.  My goal was to get on to the starting grid and that didn’t look achievable. So I had to call it a day.”

It has also been the year when Eva Carneiro was sacked by Chelsea after Jose Mourinho castigated her for going on the pitch to do her job.

And the year when Eugenie Bouchard was asked by an on-court interviewer at the Australian Open Tennis to “Give us a twirl”.

We are also back to a situation where gender testing hit the headlines again, including the new and worrying “normalisation” of female genitalia.  Women are being operated on so that they conform to someone’s idea of what genitalia should look like.  It’s as if all the campaigning going on around the evils of FGM are lost as it seems to be sanctioned in the name of sport.

And last but not least, the print media are still lagging way behind in covering women’s sport, even though most have been promising faithfully to improve and extend their coverage.

Progress has indubitably been made, but I still maintain that I, and most of the people I know in the business of women’s sport, exist in a “bubble” – a bubble that prevents them from seeing that outside it perceptions are moving at a glacial rate.

So – the bubble.  How do we get beyond it?

One way is to keep checking on the “mainstream” outlets.  Keep in touch with @WomenSportPress, who will tell us just how much (or little) coverage women’s sport is receiving.  But check it out yourselves – do a count of how much news actually gets reported and how it’s reported.  Look at the comments sections.  Report sexist and misogynistic comment.  How much women’s sport is featured in online news outlets?  Where does it come on the page?  What is the attitude?

But of course, it’s not just in the media and at elite level.  Keep an eye on your local sports facilities and local councils.  What are they offering for girls and women?  Could they do better?  How is it offered?  At what times of the day?  Do they assume all women must be stay-at-home mums so their classes are all during the day?  Do they have initiatives to get girls and women involved in sport?

And it’s everything in between!  We want women’s sport to be viewed as “normal”, as “mainstream”.  We want coverage to be second nature to all media.  We want girls to grow up thinking that doing sport is natural and fun.  I don’t actually want to write a weekly women’s sports column, because it should just be part of what everyone does, but until it is I’ll keep writing, so that women’s sport gets the attention it deserves.

So while we’re all patting each other on the back and saying what a good job we’re doing, giving out awards for this and that, we should still be looking at the even bigger picture.  You only need to look at the comments section of any online article about women’s sport to see the banal barrage of sexist, belittling and sometimes misogynistic responses.  And if anyone mentions the word “banter” to me, I’ll scream – because it’s not.

By all means let’s congratulate ourselves on the progress, but let’s also get beyond the bubble, because if we don’t we will inevitably end up failing in our mission to make women’s sport a part of everyone’s life.

The Women’s Sports Column

What’s new in the world of women’s sport

Welcome to this, my inaugural Women’s Sports Column!  Its aim is to highlight just a few of the important, inspirational and interesting stories from the last week.  Let’s redress the balance, shall we, because if the national press and most other mainstream media outlets are to be believed, there is so little women’s sport out there it is not worth mentioning….

The Australian Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) starts on Saturday (December 5).   It is the first T20 women’s competition of its kind and will be trailblazing its way across Australia in parallel to the men’s BBL.  The ECB will be watching its progress with bated breath as it prepares to launch its equivalent in England in 2016.  Certainly the marketing and build-up have been impressive, with big sponsorship from Australian sports equipment and clothing brand, Rebel.

There will be 59 games in 50 days in a tournament of eight teams.  Some games will be played as double-headers before the men’s, while others will stand alone.  Both tournaments will culminate in a grand finals day in January.  Several England players have been signed up including Sarah Taylor, Charlotte Edwards, Kate Cross, Lauren Winfield, Heather Knight, Danni Wyatt, Nat Sciver, Katherine Brunt and Laura Marsh.  Other notable names include New Zealanders Suzie Bates, Sophie Devine and Sara McGlashan, West Indians Stafanie Taylor and Deandra Dottin and South Africans Mignon du Preez and Marizanne Kapp. Former Aussie all-rounder, Lisa Sthalekar, has even come out of retirement to take part.  For more information check out Cricket Australia’s website.

While we’re on the subject of cricket, England’s 2016 fixtures against Pakistan have been released.  There will be three one-day internationals and three T20s.  Disappointing to see no test match, but it still promises to be an interesting and enjoyable series.

20.6.16 ODI Grace Road, Leicester
22.6.16 ODI New Road, Worcester
27.6.16 ODI The County Ground, Taunton
3.7.16 IT20 Bristol County Ground
5.7.16 IT20 Ageas Bowl, Southampton
7.7.16 IT20 The Essex County Ground, Chelmsford

Last, but not least when it comes to cricket, qualifying for the 2016 Women’s World T20 is well underway for associate nations.  The qualifying tournament, which is taking place in Thailand, has gone to form and the final will be between Bangladesh and Ireland on Saturday 5 December.  Both have now qualified for the World T20 proper, taking place in India in March 2016.

It’s also been a busy football week for the home nations in qualifying for the 2017 European Championships, with wins for England and Scotland and a hard-fought draw for Wales.  England beat Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-0 at Ashton Gate in Bristol on Sunday 29 November.  The headed goal, from Jill Scott, came well into the second half.  It was a difficult game, with the Bosnia-Herzegovina strategy seeming to be to keep 11 players behind the ball at all times.  England were patient and persistent, however, and deserved the win.  A crowd of over 13,000 braved a wet and windy Bristol Sunday evening to watch the game.

Things were much easier for Scotland as they put 10 past a weak Macedonia team at St Mirren Park.  Jane Ross scored four, Jo Love a hat-trick and Jennifer Beattie, Hayley Lauder and Lisa Evans got a goal each.  They are now three points clear at the top of Group 1.

Wales had to settle for a 2-2 draw away to Israel on 1 December. The home side went ahead early on, but two from Tash Harding looked to have sealed it for Wales, until a late equaliser from Israel ruined Wales’ night.  They are now five points behind leaders Austria in Group 8.

Women’s basketball has a way to go before it gets on the mainstream sporting radar.  Netball has been much in the news this year, with the World Cup in Sydney in August, but basketball has to fight for all the coverage it can get.  So although not strictly this week, this is the update for Great Britain’s attempt to qualify for EuroBasket 2017.  Unfortunately it has not been a good start, with two losses from two.   On 21 November GB lost 78-64 away to Montenegro and on 25 November at home to Italy 48-60.  GB currently sit third in Group C with two points.  The next round of qualifying will be in February 2016.

In the World Women’s 7s Series in Dubai, Australia took the title this afternoon against Russia by 31-12. The first half was tight, but Australia upped it in the second, with an inspirational Ellia Green performance taking it away from Russia.  England and France fought it out earlier for third place, with England coming out on top 10-5 in a pulsating game which went to extra time golden points.  It has been a while since neither New Zealand nor Canada featured in the final two games, and it is encouraging to see that European teams are making progress in this event.   England’s policy of playing its best side in Sevens events at the expense of the 15-a-side game has been controversial, but if this result is anything to go by, seems to be paying off.

And finally, it’s the awards season and this week the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) was announced.  It includes three women – yes three!  Obviously the BBC has learnt its lesson from the dark days of 2011 when the lack of any female athlete on the shortlist caused outrage (in my world, anyway).  Those shortlisted are cyclist Lizzie Armistead, England footballer Lucy Bronze and athlete Jess Ennis-Hill.

Also this week was the third BT Action Woman of the Year ceremony.  The winner, or actually winners, were the England Women’s Football team (Lionesses) who finished an outstanding third place in the World Cup this summer.  Runners–up were the England Women’s Hockey team, for their European Championship triumph in August.  Third place went to World Downhill Biking Champion and winner of the World Cup Series, Rachel Atherton.  It was an impressive shortlist that also included Nicola Adams, Lizzie Armistead, Georgina Hermitage, Jess Ennis-Hill, Johanna Konta, Sarah Outen and the Oxford Women’s Boat Race crew.

There’s so much more I could (and probably should) mention, but so little time.  If this has whetted your appetite for women’s sport, why don’t you check out some of the links in this article and join me next Friday for more.

Prepare for my new Women’s Sports Column

261220082485PAPERSI know I keep banging on about it, but it doesn’t make it any less true – there is not enough coverage of women’s sports in the media.  Just 7% of all media coverage is devoted to women’s sport.  I am always trying to help to redress the balance!

To this end I have decided to compile a weekly women’s sports column as part of my blog.  It will be news-based, rather than results-based, but it should give a presence to some of the stories that matter, all in one place.  If you want a results service you can’t do better than WSUK.

There are so few dedicated women’s sports columns – there are some fabulous female sportswriters out there, but they tend to be feature writers.

So, take a look at my column every week and you may find there’s more going on than you thought!