“So, it’s just a bunch of old guys poking balls with sticks?”
“No, it’s Sport. They’re finely tuned athletes.” I calmly respond through gritted teeth, when watching the Masters Snooker this weekend.
“You said that about the golf last week, and then that guy started smoking a cigar in the middle of it.”
And that’s when I turn it off and decide to follow it online instead, in a manner which can definitely not be described as ‘sulky’. My girlfriend doesn’t get sport. No matter how I enthuse about the incredible importance of a football fixture, or the tension in the final set at Wimbledon, or even the exceptional 147 break in the snooker, it all seems quite dull.
Rugby, she gets. She denies it, but it has something to do with the thighs. I’m sure of it.
Whilst I’m not claiming that all women share this view, sport is still a very male world. 93% of people who watch sports are men. That’s a high number, and might well be true- who knows. The @realwomenmag budget unfortunately doesn’t go far enough for commissioning actual research, so we’re using an un-educated guess system.
Still, 93%, shocking isn’t it?
Arguably there has never been a greater focus on women in sport. Jessica Ennis is contractually obliged to be on every third advert that you see. Victoria Pendleton, Paula Radcliffe and Rebecca Adlington are all household names thanks to a fairly under reported sporting event this summer.
Gabby Logan, Georgie Thompson and Hazel Irvine all hold lead anchor roles for the BBC and Sky in football, golf, snooker and rugby. There is decidedly less Ron Burgundy about these anchorwomen.
Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the UK, and the standard is improving immensely. There is a less and less tokenistic nature to the coverage, but still, nowhere near the profile or audience of male only sports.
So are things really changing? Will we really ever get to a stage where the women’s premier league is as famous as the guys? Only if it receives genuine investment. So, no.
Sport is engrained into boy’s upbringing in a totally different way to girls at school. I had a glittering career as a young footballer, with “The Tamworth Heralds” (my local newspaper) match reports spelling my name correctly for 3 out of 5 of my total career goals. Our best player up to under 11 level was a girl. Shocking news, I know. She was great. There was never a problem with it, a few teams were mixed, but we had a great coach who I sincerely believe had a major impact on my young life. But as we reached that age milestone, she was no longer allowed to play with us anymore. I don’t know where she went, or even if she carried on playing, but I know that at that level there is still a big gap between the level of opportunities for girls teams. Now, I’m not sure that continuing playing mixed is a great idea, I think women’s football can stand alone in its own right, but I think that having someone who was clearly talented thrown out of her team to the West Midlands sporting wilderness is not great.
Once you’ve left high school, you’re never going to convince people that any sport is fantastic. You’ve already decided that snooker (it is a sport) is boring, football just full of clichés and rugby a bit dangerous looking. You’ve got a few years with a captive audience in high school too, if you’ll excuse one such cliché, win the hearts and minds of youngsters. Sport isn’t about winning medals and earning millions (but I’ll always hold my 2002 player’s player of the year trophy dear). We look at our obesity crisis, disillusion and unemployment with our young people. Serious, long term investment in sport for young people, both men and women would be the silver bullet. Having said that, there are a plenty of idiots in the male game who aren’t exactly model citizens. But it would be wrong to confuse the values which are bred into young people at weekly sports clubs with that of a minority of overpaid guys under intense media gaze. Hard work, self confidence, fairness and team work are the values which we should leave high school with. To me, they’re as important as reading and writing, and that’s exactly what playing sport teaches you.
I’m personally a supporter of the Olympics, but it still pains me to think of how many better ways which that money could be spent. More of the attention seems to be on selling McDonalds rather than investing in the infrastructure to keep sports clubs open, and value the thousands of dedicated people who volunteer every week to keep kids engaged in sport.
I think the Richard Keys and Andy Gray attitude is a dying one. I hope so anyway. It embarrasses me greatly. I hope that having such high profile women in sport gives our young people the passion to take up something new. If it’s a kick about down the park, a swim at the local pool, or game of darts at the pub- it all counts.
Game on, I say.