Women’s Sports Column End-of-Year Review

loveWelcome to this, the last column of 2017.  And what a year it’s been!  Instead of the usual news this week, I thought I’d review the year – in terms of heroes and villains!  Everyone loves a listicle, particularly at Christmas, so here’s mine.  I’m sure the majority of my choices will come as no surprise to regular readers of the column.

So, for the final time this year, let’s crack on.

Heroes

1) Women’s Cricket World Cup Final

No prizes for guessing my number one in the heroes department this year.  The Cricket World Cup was a fabulous event from start to finish and I’m privileged to say I was at the final at Lord’s in July.  The media coverage was pretty good, the organisation at the group games was excellent and, of course, the standard of cricket was generally superb.  But the actual day was something else.  Twenty-eight thousand cricket lovers (MCC members not included) packed into Lord’s to experience the game, the occasion and the atmosphere.  And the game had everything; great batting, bowling, fielding (and that drop from Jenny Gunn), the threat of rain, competition down to nearly the last ball…..

It was a brilliant game between two well-matched teams, which leads me on to number two:

2) Indian Women’s Cricket Team

They’ve made fans and friends wherever they go.  They’re on a massive upward trajectory and are set to get even better. Captain Mithali Raj is rightfully considered one of India’s outstanding sports personalities.  One of the moments of the World Cup was when it was reported that a little girl in a Nike store asked for her Indian cricket shirt to have the name “Mandhana” (as in opener Sriti Mandhana) on the back.  And if that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.

India will be out for revenge in the New Year when they face England again in the Women’s Tri Series.

3) Rugby union – heroes and villains

Rugby union is on the up.  And while it is, I’m reluctant to stick it in both the heroes and villains categories so, on balance, it’s in the heroes.  The Rugby World Cup was a fantastic tournament rounded off by a spectacular final.  Laurel wreaths all round to New Zealand and England for such an outstanding display, with the Black Ferns worthy winners.

But it’s not all plaudits for the administrators and organisers.  Before the tournament started we had the announcement that the RFU was not going to re-issue contracts for the 15s, but instead would concentrate on the Sevens squad ahead of next year’s World Cup.  Then the tournament itself threw up some strange scheduling that meant people missed out on seeing matches they wanted to see.  And this was followed by the announcement from the Irish Rugby Football Union that its new women’s head coach would be employed only on a part-time contract – it hosts a World Cup, then cuts its commitment to women’s rugby?  How does that work?

World Rugby has since redeemed rugby’s hero status with its new World Rugby Women’s Plan 2017-25.

So, as I say, some hits, some misses in the rugby department, but, on the whole, it’s heading the right way.

 4) Mica McNeill and Mica Moore

When British bobsleighers Mica McNeill and Mica Moore had their funding withdrawn, their Winter Olympic dream could have been over.  But they were not going to give up that easily.  McNeill launched a Crowdfunding page to raise the £30k needed to field a team.  They did it with time to spare and will now be in Pyeongchang in February.

5) Advocates, volunteers and campaigners for women’s sport

Last, but by no means least, I’d like to celebrate the legions of people out there working tirelessly (and sometimes it’s the original thankless task) to promote women’s sport.  I’m going to name a few, but I know I will have missed a lot so apologies as there’s not enough room to mention you all.  If we could only become “mainstream”, how amazing that would be.  So here we go, in no particular order, three cheers for: Women in Sport, Women in Football, Suzy Wrack, WiSP, Scrumqueens, Women’s Elite Rugby website, England Netball, FAWSL website, CricketHer, Martin Whiteley, Martin Woodward, Tracey Neville, Shelley Alexander, Kieran Theivam, 4TLOS, Jen O’Neill and She Kicks, Girls on the Ball, Eleanor Oldroyd, The Magenta Project, Darren Gilham, Sarah Williams (Tough Girl), Female Coaching Network, Coach Annie Zaidi, The Offside Rule, Natalie Germanos, Jane Martinson and so it goes on…

Apologies to those I missed out.

I’ve not included the links to the individuals and organisations above, but if anyone would like any more information, just message me.

villainsVillains

1) The FA

As we all know, some sports governing bodies are better than others.  But the nadir of the governing body world has to the Football Association (FA).  It easily makes it to the top of my villainous tree this year.  First we had the scandal surrounding Mark Sampson and his behaviour towards Eni Aluko and Drew Spence in particular.  Its attempts to sweep the “problem” under the carpet backfired spectacularly and when asked to account for its actions by a House of Commons Select Committee, was unable to come up with the faintest useful answer.  So much for the organisation’s duty of care, vetting process and grievance procedures.

If that wasn’t enough it then decides to restructure the women’s elite game once again.  Just when we were getting used to the current structure the FA, in its wisdom, decides that WSL1 has to be organised to a “stronger commercial model” to “improve the performance of the women’s game on and off the pitch.”  In doing so it immediately put immense pressure on some of the less well-equipped teams, who are currently in their position on merit, to come up with £350k, amongst other things, in order to be able to apply for a licence.  Unfortunately, this has meant that Sunderland and Watford (with probably more to come) have taken the chance not to press forward with their investment in the women’s game, but to scale it back.  Yes, the teams may have been looking for an “out”, or as they euphemistically put it “becoming more community-focussed”, but the FA needn’t have handed it to them on a plate need they?

2) Neanderthal Man

As ever, ‘Neanderthal man’ is pretty much at the top of my list too.  These are the knuckle-draggers who think their views on absolutely everything are required reading – particularly their views on women’s sport.  The “Women’s sport will never be as popular”, “women aren’t as fast/strong/good/add your own adjective, as men”, the “the only way women would get equality would be to compete against men”, the “she looks like a man, anyway”, the “get back to the kitchen” comments, even “they’re all lesbians” is still doing the rounds after all these years.  I have reported a few in my “and finally” section this year and, I’m afraid it doesn’t look as if I’m going to run out of examples any time soon.

Get over it chaps!  Katie Taylor doesn’t have to fight Amir Khan to be a good boxer, Sarah Taylor doesn’t have to keep wicket to the bowling of Jimmy Anderson to be a good cricketer and Nikita Parris doesn’t have score for Manchester City’s men’s side to be a good footballer.

3) The ECB

The ECB was due to be in my “heroes” section, but I’m afraid the news of the last couple of days means that it also makes it into my “Villains” list too.

It appears that the Kia Super League will be no more after 2019.  It looks like it will be rebranded in line with the new city-based men’s competition.  So no more Western Storm, Loughborough Lightning et al…  Each of the current franchises (yes, I have deigned to utter the word) has tried so hard to develop its USP, expand its fan-base and facilities.  The tournament is still in its infancy, but the teams are already recognisable and have their own following.  It did have a good sponsor and commitment to TV and radio coverage.  But we have to start again.

So, yet again, a governing body has seen fit to “fix it” when it hasn’t been “broke”.  We’re yet to see the details of what’s to come, but I haven’t yet got past “why?”

4) BBC Sports Personality of the Year

Now, don’t get me wrong – I think the event is a good thing.  I find the whole evening a bit cringe-worthy, but the idea is a sound one.  But it was beyond disappointing this year that the four women nominated came in the last four places after the public vote.  Obviously there has been a lot of mansplaining on this issue – the women weren’t “good” enough, it’s a public vote so people vote for who they want to, some of the women are from minority sports, etc.

But they’re missing the point.

Women’s sport still consistently flies under the radar.

The popularity and media profile of Women’s cricket is at an all-time high, and yet this was not enough for Anya Shrubsole to finish higher than eighth from twelve nominees in the individual category.  How do we know these women are so good if we rarely see their achievements celebrated in the media?  And if their achievements are denigrated by the “usual” sport-watching public so much, how are we to know that taking six wickets in a Women’s World Cup final is worth rewarding?

How do these women ever raise their profile sufficiently to make a dent in the minds of the general public?   I’m afraid to say that at the moment they still don’t.  They are coming from such a low level of coverage, investment, support and recognition that it’s still a mountain to climb, all of which leads me on to my fifth villain:

5) Anyone who says it’s been a “watershed year” for women’s sport

Sorry to throw such a dampener on things, but while there’s been so much to celebrate this year (see heroes!), there is still so much work to do that I really don’t think it has been a “watershed” year.  There have been countless fantastic achievements, tournaments, records, performances, but in the eyes of the general public it counts for nothing until the “mindset” (ugh horrid word) of the sport-loving public is changed beyond recognition.  So while there has been undoubted progress and I personally have loved every minute of it this year, it’s not a “watershed year”.

But let’s not end on a negative note.  No, I’m not going to “look for the positives” (ugh again), but there has been so much to celebrate this year and we should ensure that 2018 builds on this.  As well as the usual annual tournaments, we have the Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, Rugby World Cup Sevens, the Hockey World Cup at Surrey Sports Park, two teams still in the Champions League, and so it goes on.  And we sports-lovers will be there to see it all.  So let’s make every week of 2018 Women’s Sports Week and let’s cheer every extra televised fixture, every column inch and every interview.

Thank you for reading the column this year.  I’ve loved writing it, which I hope comes out in every word.  I’m having a couple of weeks off now, but will back in the New Year with more news, features, reports and interviews and I hope you’ll join me. 

I’d also like to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a lovely sport-filled New Year. 

 

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Women’s Sports Column

netball220-26 February

This week’s stories come from tennis, netball, cricket, winter sports, hockey and cycling. Extra bits of early Saturday 27 news as I’m late posting!

Poor fortunes for all of Britain’s top tennis players this week. British number two, Heather Watson, lost in the first round of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco. She was beaten by American Christina McHale 4-6 6-0 7-6.

British number one, Johanna Konta, fared little better, getting to round two before she lost to Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6 6-2 7-5.

And Laura Robson has suffered yet another setback in her quest for fitness. Her wrist injury has forced her to pull out of the Monterrey tour event next week. She had been targeting the French Open in May for her Grand Slam return, but this may now be in doubt.

 

After losing Sasha Corbin to injury for the season, Loughborough Lightning have suffered another blow with Jade Clarke announcing she is to leave to play for Adelaide Thunderbirds. The Australian season starts in April, which means she will only be able to play three more games for the Lightning, ending with the game at Team Bath on March 4.

In an interview with the Loughborough Sport website, Loughborough’s executive director of sport, John Steele, expressed his opinion at losing a player mid-season,

“We are extremely disappointed with the way Adelaide Thunderbirds have conducted themselves.  Approaching one of our players directly, midway through the season has been very disruptive and has put our player in a difficult position. Our focus now is to ensure we have the best possible support structure in place for our squad as we move forward with our 2016 season.”

Here are the scores from this week’s games:

Team Northumbria         48           44           Yorkshire Jets

Surrey Storm                     62           40           Celtic Dragons

Yorkshire Jets                    38           51           Hertfordshire Mavericks

So, the table stands as follows:

   

Played

Points

1 Manchester Thunder

4

12

2 Hertfordshire Mavericks

4

12

3 Surrey Storm

4

9

4 Team Bath

4

9

5 Loughborough Lightning

4

6

6 Team Northumbria

5

3

7 Yorkshire Jets

5

0

8 Celtic Dragons

4

0

                                                                              

Lots of cricket news again this week. England finally triumphed 2-1 against South Africa in their three-match T20 series. After losing the second game poorly, England seemed in a more determined mood from the start. Edwards won the toss and put South Africa in. South Africa posted a decent total of 131/4, but England batted well, with another match-winning innings of 60 runs from Sarah Taylor, saw England win with 27 balls to spare. The only fly in the ointment was the quality of the England fielding which, at times, was abysmal. It will have to improve before the T20 World Cup in March. For a more depth analysis of the series read my article for www.womenssportsuk.com.

On the domestic front, more details of the new summer Superleague were released this week. The six host (the ECB are still allergic to the word “franchise”) names have been released. They are: Lancashire Thunder (playing at Old Trafford), Loughborough Lightning – that’s not confusing is it? (playing at Loughborough University), Southern Vipers (playing at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton), Surrey Stars (playing at the Kia Oval), Western Storm (playing at Bristol and Taunton) and Yorkshire Diamonds (playing at Headingley).

The games will be played between July 30 and August 14 – 15 group matches in 16 days. Finals day will be on Sunday August 21 and will be played at Essex’s county ground in Chelmsford.

News of squads will follow shortly.

 

The epic hockey series between Great Britain and Australia finally came to an end in the home side’s favour as they beat Britain 3-2 in the final Test to take the six-game series 2-1.

The Hockeyroos took the lead after five minutes thorough a Georgina Morgan penalty corner and the lead was doubled just before half time through a goal from Emily Smith. The game seemed to be beyond GB when Grace Stewart scored a third five minutes into the second half. Great Britain fought back through Sophie Bray and Joie Leigh, but were unable to find the equaliser.

The team were heartened by this performance and by the series as a whole. It stands them in good stead for the build up to the Olympics in Rio later in the year.

 

What started out as a good week for Lindsey Vonn ended in agony. She won the downhill title in La Thuile, Italy, a record 20th World Cup trophy, as she finished second in the penultimate race to go 173 points ahead of Canadas Larisa Yurkiw, with only 100 points left to win in the last race.

But on Saturday 27, Vonn crashed out in the World Cup super-G event in Soldeu-El Tarter, Andorra, and was taken to hospital. The American team spokeswoman reported that Vonn has hurt her knee, but the extent of her injury is, as yet, unknown. The race was stopped for ten minutes to allow a rescue sled to access the course and take the injured skier away.

In other skiing news, Vanessa-Mae has been awarded damages for defamation from the FIS (International Ski Federation). They had claimed that her qualification for the 2014 Winter Olympics had come through fixed races, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared her of any wrongdoing.  The FIS has apologised and Vanessa-Mae intends to donate her damages to charity. Her four year ban was also overturned. She intends to try to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

In curling, Eve Muirhead’s rink was named Scottish curling champion this week. It is sixth time that Muirhead’s team has become champion, and will now represent Scotland in the World Women’s Curling Championships in Canada in March.

I didn’t get chance to report on another gold for Great Britain in the Winter Youth Olympics last week. Ashleigh Pittaway won the skeleton bob in one minute 50.23 seconds, 0.96 seconds ahead of Germany’s Hannah Neise. Madi Rowlands had taken Britain’s first gold in the ski halfpipe on Sunday 21 and added a bronze to her tally on Friday, this time in the sky slopestyle.

Cycling road race world champion Lizzie Armitstead has started her season in the best possible way, winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium. Her team mate Chantal Blaak took second with Tiffany Cromwell in third.

And finally, last week saw the SJA British Sports Journalist awards. In the 31 categories, there were only six women writers, six photographers and two broadcasters nominated. I could write about men’s sport – I love it – and possibly earn a living, but I choose to write about women’s. This is a whole different matter.  It is still incredibly hard for a woman to make it in the macho world of sports journalism, writing about men’s sport – it’s even harder to build any kind of profile writing about women’s sport. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there are a lot of people (women and men) doing their very best to promote women’s sport for absolutely no remuneration whatsoever (including me). Rarely will any of these people receive the recognition they are due. It’s not that they don’t need or want to make money, but until women’s sport is seen as worthy of sponsorship, mainstream coverage etc., etc., this situation will continue.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

Anti-Apartheid to Women’s Sport – it’s all about campaigning

Along with many others I became politicised at university in the People’s Republic of Sheffield.  The group I fell in with were far more politically advanced than I was and I would like to thank them all for awakening my social conscience.  Growing up in Thatcher’s Britain (Yes, I’ve just dated myself there) one couldn’t help but get involved – and I did – with a passion.

Anti-Apartheid, Amnesty International, campaigning against Pinochet in Chile, Cambodia/Kampuchea, we did it all.  Then there were the domestic issues; poll tax, student loans (won one, lost one).  I was just off Westminster Bridge when the mounted police charged.  “Education is a right, not a privilege”, etc.

And so, a lot older, but not necessarily wiser, I’m still passionate about social justice, inequality, women’s rights and the gap between rich and poor.  Perhaps I don’t demonstrate as I once did, but I write, I tweet and still get angry.

So where does women’s sport come into all this?  You can’t compare the campaign for the promotion of women’s sport to protesting against the iniquitous regime in South Africa.  So what if you can’t see women’s sport on television, you’ve not “disappeared” under the rule of a ruthless dictator in Latin America.

But I don’t think that’s the point.  The “struggle” to get women’s sport the recognition and coverage it deserves is a battle and part of  a larger battle for women’s equality.  I’m not fooling myself we will achieve this in my lifetime, but for as long as I can I will be doing my bit, and at the moment my focus is on the fight for the right of every girl and woman, at whatever level, from fun to grassroots to elite performance to have access to play, officiate, administrate or just watch any sport she wants to.

And there are, undoubtedly, incredibly hideous aspects to this fight – Sri Lankan and Pakistani cricketers being abused by their coaches, women having to undergo regular and demeaning gender-testing and women in the Middle East unable even to enter sports stadia; it’s not all about the lack of media coverage.

Four years ago, when I started writing about this, I felt I was in the vanguard.  I wasn’t  sure how many people were reading me,  but it felt good to be doing it.  Now it’s the buzzword, the hot topic and I feel a little bit rueful that I’m still saying the same stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love writing about sport – be it straightforward match reports or tournament previews or searing indictments of sexism, misogyny or inequality.  But now everyone’s saying it I feel I should be doing more – back to the demonstrating perhaps?  No, there’s no demonstrating to be done, but I would also like to be more practically involved.

Words are powerful weapons and they’re what I do best, but let me get my administrative head on or utilising my organising skills and watch me go.  Anyone need any help?  Let me know!  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, publicising and making my point in the best way I know how.

Writing opportunities are out there – when do I get paid?

Some of you will know that I have recently taken the giant step of leaving my 9-5 job and taken up the cudgel of trying to earn a living as a freelance writer.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, but due to the complexities of life I’ve never managed it.

So what changed?  Have I suddenly acquired a private income?  Won the lottery? No.  I’ve just realised that at my advanced age (I’m 46), I’m running out of time!  I have family backing (emotional and, to some degree, financial) and now’s the time.

One thing I’ve never had any doubts about it is my skill in writing.  I can craft a good, readable, well thought out article, opinion piece, blurb, you name it.  What I’ve always been very bad at is the marketing side of things.  I know my work is of good quality but can I put that across to anyone else?  Doesn’t it sound like boasting?  One doesn’t want to blow one’s own trumpet (in a frightfully British kind of way).  And yet, if it were a friend or colleague’s work I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend and do everything I could to promote it.

I’ve been volunteering as a writer an sub-editor for Women’s Views on News for over four years.  I started out on general news, graduating into my specialism of women’s sport.  I’m so grateful to WVoN for giving me my first writing chance and they will always be top of my list if I’m volunteering, but if I want more exposure (and possibly payment) what do I do?

There are some incredible (unpaid) women’s sport writing opportunities out there.  I could write all day, every day, about women’s sport, cricket, the politics of sport, equality, media coverage, misogyny and sexism, etc.  But who is going to pay me to do it?  The print media continues to be supremely uninterested in women’s sport – I could turn out an interesting, thought-provoking weekly column at the drop of a hat, but no-one’s ever going to ask me.  Is it worth me even pitching the idea?  If Anna Kessel can do it at the Guardian, why can’t anyone else?

So, I’m considering volunteering elsewhere.  To be part of a team that shares your passion for cricket, football or bog-snorkelling is special.  I’d love to write for all of these sites, but I’d also like to eat.  There’s a particularly scary article by the Sports Journalists Association about working for free, which I try to keep in mind each time I come across yet another excellent website paying nothing.  But it’s hard.  I want to get my work out there.  All of these sites have numerous followers and boast considerable traffic, so why shouldn’t I volunteer?

It’s five weeks in for me.  I’m optimistic.  I’ve published a lot of stuff for WVoN, sorted out my website and blog (you’re reading it), I’m Linkedin and Tweeting like a maniac.  Now I’m considering and planning what to do next.  I have confidence in my product.  I know I may need some luck somewhere along the line, but if I do fail to make an impact, it won’t be through lack of effort.