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

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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.

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