Welcome to the first column of 2017 and a Happy New Year to all my readers. It’s going to be (yet another) big year for women’s sport with world cups in rugby union (in Ireland), rugby league (Australia), lacrosse (UK) and cricket (UK) as well as the football Euros and EuroHockey, both taking place in the Netherlands. It’s going to be tricky (and fun) keeping up with it all!
So let’s start with a relatively gentle first column of the year with stories from tennis, cricket, football, athletics, skeleton, UFC and “The Jump”. In place of the usual “and finally” section, I’ll go through some of the highlights of the New Year’s Honours.
Johanna Konta made it to the semi-final of the Shenzhen Open before she was defeated, somewhat surprisingly, by world number 52 Katerina Siniakova.
Konta won the first set 6-1 in just 22 minutes. Siniakova drew level , winning the second 6-4. Konta was 4-2 up in the third when Siniakova put together a run of four games to take the set 6-4 and thus the match.
Altogether, though a good warm up for the first grand slam, the Australian Open, which takes place later this month.
Siniakova, who also beat Simona Halep in the second round, will face the American Alison Riske in the final.
Riske, 39 in the world rankings, beat Camila Giorgi 6-3 6-3 in her semi-final to reach the final of the Shenzhen tournament for the second year running.
At the ASB Classic in Auckland Serena Williams was knocked out by fellow American and world number 72 Madison Brengle 4-6 7-6 4-6. It was her second game back after four months out through injury.
In the same round Venus Williams also retired with an arm injury.
The final will be between Ana Konjuh of Croatia, who beat Julia Goerges in her semi-final 6-3 4-6 6-3 and Lauren Davis of the USA, whose semi-final opponent Jelena Ostapenko retired in the third set at 1-4, the other two sets going 6-4 4-6.
Bad news for women’s football as it was announced yesterday that Sunderland Ladies are to revert to being a part-time club.
In a statement the club said that after three years of employing some players full-time and some part-time was not working,
“Having a mix of full-time and part-time players was not working as effectively as the club, and indeed the players, had envisaged.
“With a number of the squad committed to careers or study, full-time football careers were not an option for them.
“A part-time model for players therefore ensures that students and those with careers such as teaching, can continue to be committed members of the first team squad, without having to make a choice between their career and football.”
The Lady Black Cats finished fourth in their first season in WSL1 in 2015 and seventh last season.
But whatever way you dress it up (and make no mistake, this is dressing it up), this is a backward step.
Sunderland saw a dramatic drop in their attendances last season, down nearly 24%. Surely it’s no coincidence that they have now gone part-time?
The FA needs to see this for what it is – a backward step and a cry for help. WSL1 clubs are receiving an increase in their central funding from £70,000 to £92,500. It’s a drop in the ocean when it comes to running a football club. If the women’s leagues are to thrive the FA needs to look into this. But not just look into it, but to act. They need to make ongoing plans for support – not just one-off payments, go away sort yourselves out and we’ll see you next season.
It seems to me that (and I’ve said this before), that when it comes to women’s sport, governing bodies talk a good game. They introduce one initiative after another and don’t back it up. They tinker with the format season after season meaning no consistency for supporters.
This is not just in football, but in all of the major team sports. There are no easy answers, but governing bodies need to stop the talk and put their “real” backing into women’s sport.
Chelsea continue to strengthen their squad. This week they signed US international Crystal Dunn from Washington Spirit on a contract until 2018.
Arsenal, meanwhile, seem to be losing players rather than signing them. Former England player Rachel Yankey and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Emma Byrne have both been released by the Gunners.
Current WSL1 champions Manchester City Women have signed England under-23 forward Melissa Lawley from Birmingham City Ladies on a two-and-a-half year contract.
Lizzie Yarnold now lies joint third in the World Cup standings after finishing ninth in the third race in Altenberg, Germany.
She had been leading the field, but the winner of the third race, Germany’s Jacqueline Loeling, has now taken her place.
Tina Hermann took silver with Janine Flock taking bronze. Britain’s Laura Dees finished sixth and is now eighth in the standings.
The next race, number four of eight, will be on 15 January at Winterberg in Germany.
I don’t mind admitting I struggle with the idea of this as a sport, but this is big news so it gets into the column.
Ronda Rousey lasted only 48 seconds in her comeback fight against Amanda Nunes.
It is thought that she may now consider retirement.
Nunes landed 27 punches in the 48 seconds.
This week Scotland’s Laura Muir broke the British indoor 5,000m record by an astonishing 14 seconds.
The record, previously held by Liz McColgan, had stood for 25 years.
She ran the record at the Glasgow Miler Meet in a time of 14 minutes 49.12 seconds.
I’m not quite sure why anyone would want to take part in this after the injuries sustained in the last series, but both taekwondo champion Jade Jones and Paralympic double gold medallist Kadeena Cox have signed up to take part in the new series of the Channel 4 series, “The Jump”.
But this is only half the story. Cox has had her UK Sport funding suspended while she takes part. Cox is both an athlete and a cyclist and has had the funding withdrawn by British Athletics with the support of British Cycling.
In a statement, British Athletics said,
“Due to the nature of the activities on the show, the athlete cannot continue to be supported by the WCPP (World Class Performance Programme) during this time.
“Her UK Sport funding will be suspended until she returns to training and proves her fitness.”
It is understood that both governing bodies have advised her against taking part in the show.
GB Taekwondo has also expressed their reservations to Jade Jones, but the Welsh champion will go ahead and her funding remains in place.
UK Sport has announced that it is up to each individual governing body to decide whether to continue funding for the duration of the programme.
The Rebel WBBL proceeds apace. Currently Sydney Sixers are top with five wins from eight games but are ahead only on net run-rate.
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England opener Lauren Winfield has been drafted in by Brisbane Heat to replace the injured Deandra Dottin.
Dottin fractured a cheekbone after she collided with team mate Laura Harris on 27 December.
The honours system may not be to everyone’s taste, but this year’s New Year’s Honours have been good for sportswomen. Among those honoured include Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katherine Grainger, who are awarded dame-hoods. There were CBEs for Laura Kenny, Charlotte Dujardin and Sophie Christiansen. OBEs went to Kate Richardson-Walsh, Katie Archibald and Nicola Adams and MBEs to the whole GB hockey team, Saskia Clarke and Kadeena Cox.