Sports presenter and journalist Laura Winter was incensed when she read Martin Samuel’s article in the latest issue of GQ magazine, deriding women’s sport. Here she provides a counter-argument – and in the interest of fair play – we also provide a link below to Samuel’s article.
In 1920, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies played St Helen’s Ladies in front of 53,000 people at Goodison Park. Thousands more camped outside, unable to get a seat. Less than a year later, women’s teams were banned from FA-affiliated grounds, despite drawing bigger crowds than men’s teams playing simultaneously. Perhaps it was the superior attendances that left a sour taste in the mouths of the men in charge. But the official reason? The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.
This week, Martin Samuel wrote an opinion piece in GQ magazine stating that if women want equal pay they must earn it. He states until women’s sport is as popular as men’s, and until women demonstrate their ability, they should continue to be underserved, under-funded and, well basically, ignored.
But let’s look back to 1920. Women’s football was drawing in bigger crowds than men’s football, until it was banned from FA grounds and clubs. And that is exactly it – over the last 200 years women’s sport has been routinely and systematically ostracised, banned, devalued and non-funded. It has received little to no coverage and funding. It has been the subject of derision and disrespect. Is there any wonder it naturally lies behind men’s sport, which has enjoyed centuries of funding, publicity, organisation and adulation?
Samuel fails to acknowledge the hurdles women’s sport have had to overcome and are still overcoming. Much is changing, but there is more to be done.
The Daily Mail chief sports writer also somehow justifies most newspapers routinely ignoring and dismissing women’s sport because England women lost the Ashes last year, while live on Sky Sports. Well, by that logic, we should stop watching and writing about the England men’s rugby team, who suffered brutal and embarrassing defeats to Wales and Australia in last year’s Rugby World Cup. Indeed, they became the first host nation in history to fail to progress from the group stages.
It is a poor and unworkable excuse for unacceptable sports coverage.
England’s women are world champions, having beaten Canada in 2014 to lift the World Cup for the first time in 20 years.
And let’s not forget the Lionesses. Last summer, a nation was gripped as England took the bronze, bringing home football’s first World Cup medal since 1966. Men, women and children were glued to their TV screens past midnight, watching the thrilling World Cup.
The Lionesses truly inspired a new generation of football fans and players. It was game-changing.
England hockey are European champions and road cyclist Lizzie Armitstead is world champion. So, are these performances good enough? Yes, they are. These teams are among the best in the world. Their performances are world-beating. They cannot possibly provide an excuse for the abject lack of media coverage.
And it is precisely this non-existent coverage which contributes to women’s sport relative anonymity. Here we have a chicken and egg scenario, a vicious circle. If women’s sport is not covered, there will be limited interest. If there isn’t interest, the perception is there is no demand for women’s sport, and so there is no coverage and no investment. And so it goes on.
But in fact, the demand to watch and read about women’s sport has never been higher.
The Lionesses are enjoying record crowds at both international and club games. With bigger and better coverage comes interest, with interest comes knowledge and with greater knowledge comes investment.
There are fantastic, stirring, and heart-wrenching women’s sports stories out there. But if no one is writing about them, they are left uncovered, untold and forgotten.
And who decides women’s sport is not worth writing about? The old, tired formula, which is so often ruled predominantly by men’s football, rugby and cricket, no longer reflects sport as it is today.
This is recognised by some. Sponsors, such as Continental and SSE who support women’s football, Investec who back England hockey and Kia who fund the women’s cricket team, have broken the mould. Newton Investment Management, and their inspiring CEO Helena Morrissey turned the dream of the women’s Boat Race being raced alongside the men on the Tideway, and in front of worldwide audiences of millions, into a reality.
Sponsors can transform women’s sport. While we cannot expect it to be on par with men’s sport, the gulf is undeservedly immense.
And so, the stories are left untold. And they are stories of true passion, endeavour and sacrifice. Sportswomen cannot count on huge financial gain. To train day in, day out with so little funding, and with routine derision and ostracisation, takes an immense strength of character. They compete and train for the sheer love of their sport and for their insatiable need to compete and excel.
That is a scintillating story in itself.
The concept of equal pay – and a concerted move towards it – is crucial if women’s sport is to continue to progress. In sport, as in life, women are not second-class citizens. Female athletes have made as great a contribution to some of the greatest sports stories the world has known as men. It’s time this was recognised.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and was part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.