Women’s Sports Column 8-14 December 2018

the-ball-stadion-football-the-pitch-39362Welcome to this week’s column.  Apologies for the no-show last week.  I had it half-written, but felt so ill from Thursday onwards that I just couldn’t complete it.  Shame, because it was going to be a good one (but you’ll just have to take my word for that…)

Anyway, still plenty to get our teeth into this week with stories from football, cricket, volleyball, rugby, tennis, sports sponsorship, taekwondo, darts and sailing.  Plus, it was due to be my “And Finally” last week, but I just can’t let that twerking farrago go!

Let’s crack on.

Football

World Cup 2019 Draw

No doubt as to the top news story this week, as Saturday’s World Cup 2019 draw saw England and Scotland drawn in the same group.  It had a strange air of inevitability to it, I thought, as I watched the balls being pulled from the goldfish bowls.

The draw in full:

Group A
France, South Korea, Norway, Nigeria

Group B
Germany, China, Spain, South Africa

Group C
Australia, Italy, Brazil, Jamaica

Group D
England, Scotland, Argentina, Japan

Group E
Canada, Cameroon, New Zealand, Netherlands

Group F
United States, Thailand, Chile, Sweden

Group D fixtures:
(all local time)

9 June
England v Scotland, Allianz Riviera, Nice (6pm)

10 June
Argentina v Japan, Parc des Princes, Paris (6pm)

14 June
Japan v Scotland, Roazhon Park, Rennes (3pm)
England v Argentina, Stade Océane, Le Havre (9pm)

19 June
Japan v England, Allianz Riviera, Nice (9pm)
Scotland v Argentina, Parc des Princes, Paris (9pm)

My thoughts at this point could easily become a list of clichés, so I’ll keep it brief.  I’ll suggest that it is a truism rather than a cliché to say that there are no easy groups at the World Cup.  Scotland will be massively motivated to beat England and the Lionesses will not be able to afford to “warm up” as the group progresses.  They will need to be sharp from the start.  It’s not a gimme for England, that much is sure.  Japan will probably provide the toughest test, so ideally Neville will want his team to have made a positive start and have points in the bag by the time they play them.

France and Germany should have a fairly easy ride; Group C is anyone’s guess; it’s tough between Canada and Netherlands in Group E and also between United States and Sweden in Group F.

Looking forward to it immensely.  If any enterprising publication/website would like to send me over to cover it, just let me know.  Not looking forward to all the misogynist bile that goes with it (plenty going around already).

Jordan Nobbs

England have already received one blow to their chances as it has been confirmed that Jordan Nobbs will not make it to France 2019.  The Arsenal midfielder has had surgery for the anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained in the match against Everton in November.

Nobbs had had a storming start to the season and will, without doubt, be missed.

Afghan National Team

Meanwhile, although we bemoan the status of women’s football in this country, we should, perhaps, consider ourselves lucky, when we see what others have had to go through in order to pursue their footballing passion.

I must admit I was doubtful that there would be any meaningful investigation into the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of members of the Afghan women’s team by Afghan Football Federation (AFF) staff.

But this week the Afghanistan Attorney General, Farid Hamidi, has suspended six members of the AFF, including the president, Keramuddin Karim while an investigation is carried out.

The Guardian reported in November that allegations of abuse taking place in Afghanistan as well as at a training camp in Jordan had been reported by senior officials.

In The Guardian’s report this week the team’s former coach, Kelly Lindsey, is quoted as saying,

“For years I have listened to stories of how women are treated in Afghanistan – seeing and hearing the disparity in our players’ voices. I have seen how these men have destroyed the bonds, trust, and unity these women built together through teamwork. For every step forward we went through a despairing step back at the hands of these men.

“I stopped in my tracks when I saw the news and felt for once in these women’s lives they can see that unity can lift them out of despair. That their voice has finally been heard and hopefully for their bigger mission to help all women and children of Afghanistan have a voice and live their dreams.”

And Mina Ahmadi, a player excluded from the team for refusing to sign a new contract, said

“I was in awe when I saw the news. When we started this whole movement I was hoping for a fundamental change but because so many people before us tried it as well, I wasn’t sure if we will be heard.

“The fact so many people joined us in our fight and we honestly brought some change just makes me feel so proud. I’m proud to know so many female fighters for justice and I just hope that it’s the beginning of a greater and brighter future for our country. It’s the biggest honour to be part of this mission and to show people that you should raise your voice when you are treated wrongly.”

I will follow up on this story as it progresses.

SheBelieves Cup 2019

The US will once again host the SheBelieves cup in February, which will serve as a useful World Cup warm-up tournament for those involved.  The teams will be US, Japan, Brazil and England.

The Lionesses will begin their campaign against Brazil in Philadelphia on 27 February.  They then move on to Nashville to play the US on 2 March and then to Tampa to play Japan on 5 March.

WSL

This weekend’s WSL results were as follows:

9 December
Yeovil Town 0-5 West Ham
Lehmann 19’ 27’, Simic 34’ 59’, Visalli 53’

Reading 2-2 Liverpool
Williams 62’ 84’
Sweetman-Kirk 10’ 68’

Manchester City 1-0 Birmingham
Stanway 12’

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-4 Chelsea
Ericsson 55’, England 69’ 91’, So-yun Ji 76’

Everton 0-2 Bristol City
Rutherford 65’, Rood 91’

Arsenal are now top on goal difference only (although it’s a healthy gap), but they have a game in hand over the chasing pack and have 27 points.  Man City are second, with Chelsea five points behind in third.  At the bottom, Yeovil have three points from 11 matches, Brighton are just above them with four and Everton third from bottom with five from ten matches.

WC

This weekend’s WC results were as follows:

Aston Villa 5-1 Sheffield Utd
Hutton 40’ 63’ 73’, Haywood 42’, smith 82’
Jones 51’ (Pen)

Lewes 0-2 Charlton Athletic
Eupji 40’, Agg 69’

Durham 3-1 Manchester Utd
Salicki 22’, Hepple 60’, Ness 87’
Toone 42’

London Bees 2-1 Leicester City
Beckett 52’, Wilkinson 70’
Johnson 27’

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Crystal Palace
Dean 26’

Durham proved that Manchester United are beatable by doing just that at the weekend, but United stay top on 25 points from 10 games.  They are only ahead on goal difference from Charlton, who have played a game more with Durham in third a point behind, also having played 11.  At the bottom, Millwall still have two points from ten games and Crystal Palace are just above them with four.

Continental Cup

12 December
Reading 5-6 Liverpool
Tottenham Hotspur 0-5 Chelsea
Birmingham City 1-3 Bristol City
Millwall Lionesses 1-3 Arsenal
Yeovil Town 1-4 Brighton & Hove Albion
Sheffield Utd 3-1 Leicester City
Charlton Athletic 0-2 West Ham Utd

13 December
Everton 0-3 Manchester Utd
Aston Villa 0-4 Manchester City
Crystal Palace 7-2 London Bees

The quarter-finalists are: Manchester City/Birmingham City (Group 1 North), Manchester Utd/Reading (Group 2 North), Chelsea/Brighton & Hove Albion (Group 1 South), Arsenal/West Ham Utd (Group 2 South).

Sports Sponsorship

There was good news and frustrating news in the world of women’s sports sponsorship this week.  Make no mistake, the good news is major.

Visa have signed a seven-year deal with UEFA to become women’s football’s first sole sponsor at all levels.

Visa will be the main partner for the Champions League and the Women’s Euros.  It will also sponsor the Women’s Under-19 and Under-17 Championships and the UEFA Women’s Futsal European Championships.

The deal runs until 2025.

By contrast, Guinness have just signed a six-year deal to sponsor the Six Nations Rugby – the men’s tournament that is, not the women’s.  For some reason the women’s Six Nations has not been included and this major tournament remains without a sponsor.

Sailing

British yachtswoman Susie Goodall was rescued by a 40,000-tonne cargo ship after capsizing in the Golden Globe Race.

Her boat went over 2,000 miles west of Cape Horn and she was picked up two days later by the Tian Fu which used one of its cranes to hoist her out of the water.

The Tian Fu was sailing from China to Argentina when it was diverted by the Chilean Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to make the rescue.

The accident was so violent that Goodall was knocked out and when she came to Goodall was able to raise a distress signal.  The conditions were so bad that the rescue ship could not put out a rib boat to pick her up, but had to try the difficult manoeuvre with the crane and hook.

Goodall was in fourth place in the race when the accident happened.

Tennis

Amelie Mauresmo has withdrawn as France’s Davis cup captain and instead will become coach to world number 32 Lucas Pouille.

She had been appointed in June to take over from Yannick Noah in 2019, and would have been France’s first female Davis Cup captain.

BT Action Woman of the Year

In case you missed it last week, the results of this year’s Awards bear repeating:

Dina Asher-Smith was named BT Action Woman of 2018.  There can be no doubting the appropriateness of the honour – this year she won gold in the 100m, 300m and 4x100m at the European Championships as well as gold in the 4 x100m and bronze in the 200m at the Commonwealth Games.

The England Netball team won the Team of the Year award after their gold medal-winning performance at the Commonwealth Games.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in encouraging both disabled and non-disabled youngsters into sport as well as recognising her role in leading a government review into the safety of sporting events.

Cricket

The WBBL is well underway and, thanks to my indisposition last week, I am way behind in reporting what has happened so far.  So here’s a quick re-cap:

All teams have now played three games.  The Sydney Sixers once again look like the team to beat.  After losing their first game to Melbourne Stars on the first day of the tournament, they have come back to win the next two and lie top of the table.  Ellyse Perry is on blistering form having hit a 59-ball hundred against the Perth Scorchers – the century coming from the last runs of the match.

But it was South African Lizelle Lee who hit the first century of this season’s WBBL.  She hit 102 from 56 balls against Sydney Sixers as they reached their target with 2.4 overs to spare.

Perth Scorchers also won well in the first part of the opening day double-header.  Elyse Villani hit 58 from 39 as they chased down the Hobart Hurricanes’ 144 with just three balls left of the match.  Hurricanes lost a key player just before the start as the West Indies’ Hayley Matthews broke a toe in training.

England captain Heather Knight made 82 from 55 balls for Hobart Hurricanes in their defeat to Melbourne Stars.

So, it’s all very tight at the moment.  The two Sydney teams plus Melbourne Stars have four points from three games, with the Sixers top on net run rate.  Then come Adelaide Strikers and Melbourne Renegades with one win and one no-result and three points each, while Hobart Hurricanes, Brisbane Heat and Perth Scorchers all have one win and two losses and two points.

More scorecards and detailed match information from this weekend’s games in next week’s column.

Volleyball

Last weekend’s Women’s Super League results were as follows:

Saturday 8 December
Tendring VC Ladies 3-2 Malory Eagles UEL (25-21. 18-25, 20-25, 25-15, 15-5)
Sheffield Hallam 1-3 TeamBU Wessex (23-25, 25-20, 18-25, 23-25)
London Orcas 0-3 Durham Palatinates (20-25, 15-25, 20-25)

Sunday 9 December
Tendring VC Ladies 3-0 Polonia SideOut London (25-20, 25-16, 25-21)
Bristol VC1 0-3 Birmingham Volleyball Club1 (22-25, 11-25, 16-25)

Durham Palatinates are still top with a clean eight wins from eight games and 23 points.  Tendring are second with 17 points from seven games and Malory Eagles third with the same number of points from eight games.  At the bottom, Polonia have only one win from eight games and three points.  Above them lie Birmingham with three points from seven games.

Rugby Union

Last weekend’s Premier 15s results were as follows:

8 December
Harlequins 43-7 Loughborough Lightning
Gloucester-Hartpury 53-7 Bristol Bears
Wasps 34-0 Firwood Waterloo
Saracens 59-0 DMP Sharks

9 December
Richmond 21-18 Worcester Valkyries

After 11 rounds of matches, Saracens are top with 10 wins and just one loss.  They have 50 points.  Harlequins are second on 46, with Loughborough Lightning third on 44.  At the bottom, Worcester still have four points, DMP Sharks are second from bottom on nine and Firwood Waterloo are just above them with 14.

This weekend’s fixtures:

15 December
Loughborough Lightning v Gloucester-Hartpury (12pm, Loughborough Uni)
Worcester Valkyries v Wasps (2pm, Sixways Stadium)
Firwood Waterloo v Harlequins (2.15pm,Firwood Waterloo Rugby Club)
Saracens v Richmond (3.45pm, Allianz Park)
DMP Sharks v Bristol Bears (5pm, Northern Echo Arena)

Darts

Lisa Ashton fell in the first round of the PDC World Championships at Alexandra Palace this week.  She was beaten three sets to one by world number 43 Jan Dekker of Netherlands.

Ashton took the first set, but Dekker came back to take the next three to progress into the next round.

The second female qualifier, Anastasia Dobromyslova of Russia, starts her campaign on Monday against Ryan Joyce.

Taekwondo

Grand Slam Champions Series

This second edition takes place in Wuxi, China from 12-16 December.

This really is the elite – the world’s top 16 fighters in each of the Olympic weight categories – four male and four female.

Great Britain is looking good for medals and there are some big prizes up for grabs.  Jade Jones and Lauren Williams are already through to the semi-finals of the -57kg and -67kg categories respectively.  They hope to be joined by Bianca Walkden, who is yet to fight.

Jones beat Zongshi Luo of China and will now face Maria Stetic of Croatia in the semi-final.

Williams beat Paige McPherson of the USA and will fight Ruth Gragbi of Ivory Coast in her semi-final.

News of who won what next week.

And Finally,

No apology for going ahead with this one, even though it’s “old news” (how I wish it was).  This is how I reacted to Twerkgate last week, before I was struck down by my miserable virus:

No prizes for guessing who the “One step forward, two steps back Award” goes to this week.  We finally see a Women’s Ballon d’Or Award (and goodness knows there are plenty of men out there that think that shouldn’t even be happening), when the DJ Martin Solveig, who was there for what purpose goodness only knows, asked the winner Ada Hegerberg, if she knew how to “twerk”.

She had collected the award and made a speech about inspiring the next generation of footballers, encouraging them to believe in themselves when she is asked if she can dance in a sexually provocative way!

Why would you do this, for crying out loud?  Every week I (and my fellow women’s sport enthusiasts) spend our time talking about and writing about the great things women are doing in sport.  Every week women everywhere are derided and dismissed for any role they play in sport.  It is also a particular problem in football.

So when you finally see a female Ballon d’Or winner, what do you do?  Do you a) congratulate her and say what a great year she has had and how women’s football is on the up all over Europe or do you b) ask her if she would like to dance in sexual manner in celebration of winning?

Well, apparently it’s b).  Suffice it to say, now that Solveig has had his error of judgement (if you can call it that) pointed out to him, he has apologised “to anyone who may have been offended.”

Great response by Andy Murray on Instagram, by the way,

“Another example of the ridiculous sexism that still exists in sport.

“What questions did they ask Mbappé and Modric?  I’d imagine something to do with football. And to everyone who thinks I’m overreacting and it was just a joke … it wasn’t. I’ve been involved in sport my whole life and the level of sexism is unreal.”

No more to add.

That’s all for this week.  Back next week with one last brief update before my Christmas break. 

 

Women’s Sports Column 6-12 October 2018

boxing_gloves-2Welcome to this week’s column. Hopefully a bit shorter (and sweeter) this week.  Lots of positive news around, which we all like to see. Stories this week come from boxing, football, rugby union, rugby league, tennis, netball, hockey, cricket, winter sports and motor racing.

So let’s crack on.

Boxing

Nicola Adams’ next bout could be a shot at the WBO world flyweight title.  On Saturday she beat Isabel Millan of Mexico on points (unanimous) at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.

She is now five from five since turning professional in 2017.

It was a test for Adams – the first time she had been taken beyond four rounds.  Two judges scored it 97-93 and one 96-94.

Her promoter, Frank Warren, is keen to see Adams get a shot at the title.  It could be as soon as December and he is eyeing up the undercard of the Josh Warrington v Carl Frampton fight, which takes place at the Manchester Arena on the 22nd.

The current champion is Arely Mucino of Mexico, who has been professional since 2008.  She has won 16 of her 20 bouts, nine within the distance.

Tennis

China Open

Second seed Caroline Wozniacki took the China Open title with a straight sets win over Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-3.

Wozniacki beat home favourite Wang Qiang 6-1 6-3 in the semi-final, while Sevastova defeated US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-4 6-4.

The doubles final was an altogether closer affair, eventually won in three sets by second seeds Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova 4-6 6-4 10-8 over third seeds Xu Yifan and Gabriela Dabrowski.

This week sees tournaments in both Hong Kong and Tianjin.

Hong Kong Open

Naomi Osaka withdrew before the tournament started with a back injury.

Third seed Jelena Ostapenko suffered a shock exit in the round of 32, 5-7 3-6 2-6 to the unseeded Kristina Kucova of Slovakia.

At time of publication we are at the quarter-final stage; two have been completed and two are yet to take place:

Zhang Shuai beat Daria Gavrilova (7) 6-1 6-3
Dayana Yastremka beat Kristina Kucova 7-6 6-2
Garbine Muguruza (4) v Luksika Kumkhum
Elina Svitolina (1) v Wang Qiang (6)

Tianjin Open

Meanwhile in Tianjin Britain’s Katie Boulter has had a storming week.  She reached the quarter-finals of the Tinajin Open, eventually falling to world number six, Karolina Pliskova 5-7 6-0 6-3.

After taking the tight first set, Pliskova asserted her authority in the second, taking it 6-0.  But Boulter rallied in the third and was 2-0 up before Pliskova re-asserted herself and took the set and the match.

Quarter-finals:

Caroline Garcia (2) beat Petra Martic (6) 6-2 1-0 (Martic retired with an injury)
Aryna Sabalenka (4) beat Timea Bacsinsczky 7-6 7-6
Karlina Pliskova (1) beat Katie Boulter 5-7 6-0 6-3

Pliskova meets Bacsinsczky in the semi-final

Still to play:

Hsieh Su-wei (5) v Elise Mertens (3)

Tennis – off the Court

British number one Jo Konta has split with her coach Michael Joyce after less than a year.  She has struggled this year, particularly in the Grand Slams and has slipped to 45 in the world.

There is clearly something wrong in Konta’s world and it is not my job to speculate in this column.  Her rise over the last couple of seasons has been wonderful to watch and I really hope that she finds a coach who will restore the self-confidence she really should have, but shows so little.

More news as it happens.

Football

The shortlist for the first Women’s Ballon d’Or award has been announced.  There are two English players, Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby, on the list.

It’s a lot more representative of the current state of things than the Best Fifa Awards that took place last month.

Shortlist:
Lucy Bronze (Lyon and England)
Pernille Harder (Wolfsburg and Denmark)
Ada Hegerberg (Lyon and Norway)
Amandine Henry (Lyon and France)
Lindsey Horan (Portland and USA)
Sam Kerr (Chicago and Australia)
Fran Kirby (Chelsea and England)
Saki Kumagai (Lyon and Japan)
Dzenifer Marozsan (Lyon and Germany)
Amel Majri (Lyon and France)
Marta (Orlando and Brazil)
Lieke Martens (Barcelona and Netherlands)
Megan Rapinoe (Seattle and USA)
Wendie Renard (Lyon and France)
Christine Sinclair (Portland and Canada)

Lionesses

There were two somewhat contrasting friendlies for the Lionesses this week.  The first, a dull affair played in rotten conditions against Brazil and the second, a much tighter effort enlivened by some incomprehensible refereeing decisions.

England 1-0

Brazil were clearly uncomfortable in the driving rain and wind at Meadow Lane.  England used it to their advantage and scored after just two minutes, an exquisitely placed header from Fran Kirby.

Nikita Parris caused mayhem down the wing, but was, perhaps, guilty of shooting selfishly on occasion when a cross or pass would have done a better job.

Marta went off with an injury in the first-half which didn’t help their cause.

England had several chances to increase their lead, but were profligate in front of goal.  But their attacking style was pleasing to the eye (23 shots, 8 on target), even if the quality of the end product was frustrating.

Brazil had a ten-minute period towards the end of the second-half when they seemed to finally come alive, but it would have been most unjust if they had scored the equaliser.

In the end England held out and were on the front foot at the final whistle.  It was a good performance under the circumstances, even though the opposition were disappointing.

England 1-1 Australia

The Matildas, by contrast, were up for the fight from the off.  And although the Lionesses were not made to pay for their carelessness in front of goal by Brazil, the Australians were not so forgiving,

Fran Kirby was on target again as England took the lead midway through the first-half.  Lucy Staniforth had a goal disallowed as she was (wrongly) adjudged offside.

But it was the two penalties turned down by the referee that had both Head Coach Phil Neville and the rest us scratching our heads.

Both Beth Mead and Nikita Parris were clearly brought down in the box with neither penalty being given.

Even so, England had plenty of chances to score again, particularly through Mead, but the Matildas kept on with a tenacity that we didn’t see from Brazil and were impressive on the break.

Six minutes from the end, Australia equalised as Clare Polkinghorne headed in from a corner.

World Cup Play-offs

The last European place for next year’s World Cup in France will go to either European Champions Netherlands or Switzerland.

First leg – 5 October:

Netherlands 2-0 Denmark
Beerensteyn 21’, Van de Sanden 42’

Belgium 2-2 Switzerland
Cayman 5’, De Neve 60’
Lehmann 55’, 87’

Second leg – 9 October

Denmark 1-2 Netherlands
Nadim 5’ (Pen)
Beerensteyn 7’ 90+2’

Switzerland 1-1 Belgium
Reuteler 23’
De Caigny 77’

So, Netherlands win 4-1 on aggregate and although the other tie finished 3-3, Switzerland go through on away goals.

The final is also a two-legged affair.  The first leg is on 5 November and the second on 13 November.  Netherlands are at home in the first leg.

Doncaster Rovers Belles

Breaking news is that Doncaster Rovers Belles are in talks with Club Doncaster about a possible takeover.

Club Doncaster runs Doncaster Rovers men’s side, the rugby league side and several projects in the community.

Belles Chair, Faye Lygo told the BBC,

“We believe matters are moving forward positively,” Lygo told BBC Sport.

“We have had to take measures to stabilise the club at a time of change in the women’s game and believe the future of the Belles lies in Doncaster, with the Rovers.”

Let’s hope that the discussions go well as a fully integrated club will hopefully ensure the Belles’ survival and progress.

Rugby League

Woman of Steel

Georgia Roche of Castleford is the Rugby Football League’s first ever Woman of Steel.

Roche, who is just 17, is part of the Castleford team that got to the Challenge Cup final this year and the Super League play-off semi-finals.

Talking of which….

Super League Play-offs

Leeds 24-10 Castleford Tigers

The first-half was a tight affair with Castleford going in 6-0 up at the break.  But Rhiannon Marshall, player of the match, had other ideas.  She went in for a try and set up two more for Chloe Kerrigan and Frankie Townend.  Charlotte Booth scored a fourth.  Suze Hill added another and Castleford could only come back with a consolation try from Kelsey Gentles.  Courtney Hill hit a penalty to round off the scoring and see Leeds safely through.

Wigan Warriors 10-6 St Helens

Wigan led 10-2 at half-time.  St Helens took the lead through a Faye Gaskin penalty, but Wigan hit back through tries from Alison Burrows and Rachel Thompson with Michelle Davis converting the latter.

The second-half was intense as both sides tried to make the decisive breakthrough.  In the end, the only score was a try from Saints’ Katie-May Williams with just four minutes to go.  It made for an exciting end, but Wigan managed to hold out to get through to the final.

So it will be Leeds v Wigan in the Super League Grand Final which takes place this Saturday, 13 October at the Manchester Regional Arena.  1pm kick-off.  Admission is £5 with under-16s getting in for free.

Rugby Union – Off the Pitch

Liza Burgess

Liza Burgess has become the 142nd member (and first Welsh woman) to be inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame.

She won 93 caps for Wales and Great Britain, captaining Wales 62 times.  She also played in four World Cups and

Domestically, she started at Loughborough University and Wasps and then co-founded Saracens in 1989, spending ten years at the club.

She ended her playing career at Clifton (now Bristol) and played her last game for Wales in the 2007 Six Nations against England at the age of 42.

Since her on-field retirement, she has coached extensively both domestically and with the Welsh national side and was Giselle Mather’s assistant coach of the inaugural Women’s Barbarians team in 2017.

Rugby Union – On the Pitch

The Premier 15s are back in action this weekend:

13 October
Firwood Waterloo v Gloucester-Hartpury (12.30pm, Firwood Waterloo Rugby Club)
Worcester Valkyries v Harlequins (2pm, Sixways Stadiium)
Loughborough v Bristol Bears (3pm, Loughborough University)
Saracens v Wasps (3.45pm, Allianz Park)
DMP Sharks v Richmond (5pm, Northern Echo Arena)

Hockey

Investec Women’s Hockey League Premier Division

Results from 6 October were as follows:

Clifton Robinsons 1-3 Holcombe
University of Birmingham 2-2 Buckingham
Bowdon 1-1 Beeston
East Grinstead 1-1 Surbiton
Canterbury 1-1 Slough

Surbiton dropped their first points of the season in their draw with East Grinstead.  Holcombe were the beneficiaries as they beat Clifton Robinsons to go level with Surbiton at the top of the table.  Both lie on seven points, with Surbiton top on goal difference.  University of Birmingham are third on five points.  At the bottom Slough gained their first point of the season, but are still at the foot of the table, with Bowdon second from bottom on two points.

This weekend’s fixtures:

13 October
Buckingham v Bowdon (12 noon, Stowe School, P1)
Slough v East Grinstead (12.30pm, Slough HC)
Surbiton v University of Birmingham (1pm, Surbiton HC)
Beeston v Clifton Robinsons (2pm, Nottingham Hockey, P1)
Holcombe v Canterbury (6pm. Holcombe HC, P1)

Netball

This Saturday sees the second Fast5 All-Stars tournament at the Copper Box Arena in London.

Loughborough Lightning are the defending champions.  The eight teams taking part are Lightning, Surrey Storm, Team Bath, Wasps Netball, Manchester Thunder, Strathclyde Sirens, Severn Stars and benecosMavericks.

It will be a fast and furious five-hour session.  All eight teams play in a double elimination format; two wins and a team goes through to the semi finals.  Two losses and you’re out.  Teams winning one and losing one of their opening matches will play a deciding match for a place in the semis.

Matches are 12 minutes long.  There is a five-point line and a two-minute Power Play where points count double.

It’s the netball equivalent of T20 (not commenting either way).  But it will be fun, so if you’re in the vicinity of the Copper Box on Saturday, check it out – the tournament starts at 1pm and goes on until 6pm.   It is also live on Sky.

The winning team takes away £25k, so it’s not to be sniffed at.

One player who will be there – and it’s probably worth going just to see her – is Sharni Layton.  Somehow I missed the startling fact that Layton, who retired from international netball earlier on this year, will be one of the “All Stars” playing for Surrey Storm.  Layton (and I don’t doubt it for a moment) has also indicated that she will play AFLW for Collingwood in the new season. Top of Form

Cricket

No cricket reports this week, but just to let you know that Australia will playing a three-match ODI series against Pakistan in Kuala Lumpur in the coming weeks.  The dates are 18, 20 and 22 October and I will have news and reports on their completion.

Winter Sports

Lindsey Vonn has announced she will retire at the end of the upcoming season.

She currently has 82 World Cup victories and is still aiming to break Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86.

There is no doubt that the sport has taken a physical toll on her and it is mainly for this reason that she has decided that this season will be her last:

“Physically, I’ve gotten to the point where it doesn’t make sense,” she said.

“I really would like to be active when I’m older, so I have to look to the future and not just be so focused on what’s in front of me.”

And Finally – motor racing W Series

Is it a chance to “show what women are really capable of” (Catherine Bond-Muir, Chief Executive of the new W Series) or is it “a sad day for motorsport” and an “historic step backwards (Pippa Mann, British IndyCar driver)?  Is it “an important means to an end – a stepping stone for female drivers” (Alice Powell, sportscar driver) or is it “founded on segregation” (Charlie Martin, racing driver)?

The news that there is to be a new women-only motor racing competition, the “W Series”, has certainly divided opinion.  It is backed by some big names, both male and female, including former F1 driver David Coulthard, former Williams test driver Susie Wolff and Red Bull chief designer Adrian Newey.

It’s a tricky one and I can see both sides.  What we want to avoid is creating yet another opportunity for men to cry “inferior sport” when actually, the premise is that motor racing is a sport in which men and women can compete alongside each other.

There will be up to 20 drivers competing for a prize fund of $1.5m.  There will be six races around Europe, including one in the UK.   The cars will be identical and will be run by the W Series.

Competitors will be chosen by assessment of their capabilities.

So why do we need a women-only competition?  Newey states that brute strength is not a factor in the success of racing drivers and so, he says,

“That being the case, I believe the reason why so few women have so far raced successfully at the highest levels against men is a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of capability.”

And surely that’s the issue.  It was the issue when all-women shortlists for parliamentary seats were introduced, and it’s the issue now.  I was a long-time opponent of so-called “positive discrimination” and of all-women shortlists.  But I came to see that they are a means to an end.  We want women in all areas of life to have equality of opportunity.  But it doesn’t happen.

It’s slightly different in motorsport as there is the karting route to come through.  But are women getting the opportunity in karting?   If, by the introduction of the W series, seeing women in motorsport becomes the norm, then hopefully the competition will do itself out of a job.  But until that happens, let’s give them the chance to compete and provide them with a different possible route into major motorsport and formula 1.

I’m against “ghettoising” women’s sport, but I’m all for extending opportunity, particularly in sports where, traditionally, the opportunities have been few.  Let me know what you think.

More news and views next week.