Look how old they are. The major events and mythologies that fill our modern sports media. There have been 128 Wimbledons since 1877, the first FA Cup was played in 1863 – and the Olympics quaintly describe their “modern” era as beginning in 1896. In reality it all began in 776 BC or thereabouts – and women spectators were rewarded not with a giant Coke and breathtakingly-priced hotdog but a fling off Mt Typaeum to their deaths.
That explains a lot. The narrative of sport stems from an era when women were conspicuously not, say, heptathles. Any heaving they did related to coal sacks or corsets. Dispatches from the sporting fields therefore were pretty much devoted to the endeavours of men.
There were exceptions throughout the 20th century. The Dick Kerr Ladies football team before the FA took fright at their popularity and banned them. Olympic legends from Wilma Rudolph to Dame Mary Peters. Leaders like Rachel Heyhoe Flint, captain of the England Women’s Cricket team for more than two decades. Wimbledon’s ladies singles winners, from Lottie Dod to Serena Williams.
But, you know, in general you could have grabbed any old buffer who ran sport in the 1960’s and he would have been appalled by the idea of women running marathons. Don’t ask him why. Something to do with their ‘undercarriages’ he might have said, spluttering with monumental embarrassment into his pink gin. That mad thinking wasn’t overturned until 1984 when American Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic Marathon and didn’t die after all.
Liberation of women’s muscles has proceeded to the point we reach now in the sunny foothills of the 21st century where Charlotte, Nicola, Victoria, Jessica, Becky, Katherine, Laura, Nicole, Lizzy* are – pretty much – household names. Teams, less so, but Lottie – the greatest England cricketing run scorer of all time? Perhaps.
Newspapers are constricted by space considerations and the nigh cult popularity of football, but in most other areas of the media: broadcast, online and social the opportunities have exploded for women’s sport.
The Women’s Boat Race 2015 will go down in history for its television audience of 4.8m viewers, Clare Balding as lead commentator and record crowds lining the Thames. Instead of paddling about on a bit of river near Henley with nobody watching or caring (bar relatives) the female rowers were the central focus of funding, thanks to Helena Morrissey and Newton, limelight and celebration as they rowed on the same river and the same day as the men. Hallelujah.
When the England women’s football team play in the World Cup in Canada next month, the BBC will be broadcasting the games and BT Sport have warmed up the audience with coverage of the the Women’s Super League.
The England Women’s rugby 7s team will vie for an Olympic spot this year. Scrumqueens will follow every twisting storyline. Jess Ennis will make her come- back shortly following the birth of her son Reggie last year. No-one, if they know what’s good for them, will call her ‘The Flying Housewife’ as they did Fanny Blankers-Koen when she won four Olympic golds at London in 1948.
Women have always had the muscle-power, stamina, determination, charisma, work ethic, perseverance and team spirit to be champions. They just didn’t have the babysitters. Or the money. Or the belief. It is all changing and the coverage of women’s sport is changing with it.
article by sports journalist, Sue Mott * Charlotte Dujardin – holder of all 4 major titles and world records in dressage.
Nicola Adams – glass-ceiling-busting Olympic boxing champion.
Victoria Pendleton – Britain’s most successful Olympic female cyclist.
Jessica Ennis-Hill – reigning Olympic heptathlon Champion.
Rebecca Adlington – Britain’s most decorated Olympic athlete (4 medals)
Katherine Grainger – …back in rowing and going for her 5th.
Laura Trott – double Olympic gold medalist and pro-cyclist.
Nicole Cooke – former Commonwealth, Olympic, World road cycling champion.
Lizzy Yarnold – holder of all 4 major titles in skeleton.