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.