Other than a genius for cutting up oranges in the break (or interval or whatever they call it) when people stop halfway through sport, I had one great sporting triumph at school. I coached a winning netball team from scratch while knowing absolutely nothing about the game. For reasons I can’t fathom I was made head of one of the school houses in my last year. It was a house famous for not being sporty. Indeed it was famous for not really being famous for anything. I looked forward to an indolent year so when a delegation of juniors came to see me and asked to enter the inter-house netball competition I was rather taken aback.
‘It’s not what we do,’ I explained patiently. ‘You look at all the silver cups over the years and our house doesn’t really feature. We’re more of a cheering house. We’re side-lines people and we do it terribly well but sadly, and possibly unjustly, there is no cup for that.’
The juniors were adamant. They wanted to enter a team. I wasn’t even sure how many that was. Faced with a problem I did what I always do, I headed to the library where all solutions lie and found a book called something like ‘Netball and How to Play’. I called the juniors together one wet and windy afternoon and solemnly began at page one. Holding the book I called out the suggested instruction and made them stand in the formations shown in the black and white photographs. We practised goalscoring, trying to imitate the arrows on the diagrams which indicated the perfect arc. I made them block and pivot and throw exactly as indicated. We did this for several weeks until we got to the end of the book and the beginning of the competition. I was not really any the wiser but the juniors took to it like an actual netball team playing netball and we triumphed spectacularly. Our house won and I retired from sport.
When I was 56 I was persuaded to begin exercise for my health. I was intensely reluctant. I could not touch my knees let alone my toes. I could not run for more than thirty seconds. Slowly I was lured from my sofa and now, eighteen months later, I run 5ks and even enjoy boxing. My health is dramatically improved and sport is a lovely part of my life. I am sorry it took so long and blame the games staff for only focusing on the girls who might make a winning team. I blame them for not teaching us all that shifting your body is great for everyone.
Since I started moving again I have been struck by how an average days’ television or radio or newspaper sports report would have you believe that the women of this country have all become entirely sedentary. Mostly, unless it is some special occasion like Wimbledon or some gymnastic jamboree, women do not appear in sports reports. You will find them in something like ‘The Women’s World Cup’, but the very title suggests that it would be difficult in that instance to leave them out. The rest of the time lots of women sports reporters report on men jumping, running, throwing, kicking etc. but overlook the females waiting in the locker room.
A year after the Olympics researchers from Birmingham University revealed that the national press were actually producing fewer stories about women’s sports than they did before. About 97 per cent of all sports coverage was about men’s sport. I care about this because we need role models for our young women to aspire to fitness. We need it for people like me for goodness sake to feel fine about getting moving.
I’ve recently been involved in the founding of a new political party called The Women’s Equality Party. Among the many things we seek is equal representation in the media. A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have thought to include sport but now I’ll box anyone who says it isn’t necessary.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sandi Toksvig OBE co-founded Women’s Equality Party with Catherine Mayer in 2015. She has been hosting British television and radio programmes for the last 35 years. She conceived the Playhouse Presents series on Sky Arts, is the current host of Channel 4’s 15-1 and is well known on Radio 4 particularly as former host of the News Quiz. Sandi has written over twenty books including fact and fiction for both children and adults. Her latest stage play, Bully Boy, was the opening production of London’s newest theatre, the St James. She is the Chancellor of Portsmouth University and President of the Women of the Year.
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