No, of course, you can’t compare women’s sport to men’s, but …

Rod Liddle, the outspoken journalist and commentator, used his Sunday Times column last weekend to take a pot-shot at the Australian football team, who had lost an Olympic warm-up match against a bunch of teenaged boys. Instead of stopping there, Liddle continued to rant against Clare Balding, women playing sport in general, and women let loose on the internet. Here, Gail Emms provides a measured response

If you missed Liddle’s article, follow the link here, but be aware that it is behind The Times paywall.

I have a confession to make. If I, Gail Emms MBE, in my sporting prime (aged twenty-seven years) had to play a badminton match against an under-sixteen boy who played at a reasonable level, I would lose. I might have a few good rallies, and the game may be good to watch, but ultimately, as the fifteen year old would have a bigger smash than me, have more strength and speed over the court, would be taller and stronger than me, I would be the loser. Ah bugger – does that mean I have to give up my Olympic silver medal, Rod?

When I go to schools and a child asks me, “Who would win if you and your mixed doubles partner, Nathan Robertson, played a match?”, I am always truthful. Nathan would win and I wouldn’t even get a point. The look of disappointment of the faces of the girls is very obvious, but what can I say? I can’t lie, he is and was, a hell of a lot better than me. So why did I bother with the sport, eh Rod??! Perhaps I should have just chucked my rackets in the bin because I am not as good as a boy?! Ha ha!! Or. Let me kick ass against all the other girls, team up with a brilliant badminton genius and be one of the best in the world at mixed doubles? Yeah … bit of a better attitude to take I think!

My mum played football for England in the 1971 Women’s World Cup at the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. Bearing in mind that only five years before, 1966 was a great year for the England men’s team, she was sacked from her job because she wanted to represent her country. In addition she had to pay for her kit and even though 50,000 people packed the stadium out in South America, when she returned, all she got was abuse.

As a mum, she didn’t teach me football as she didn’t want me to go through all the sexist crap that she had to deal with so she encouraged me in other sports. She is 64 years old now and she can still do keepie-uppies and probably a lot better than most people men or women that age! Maybe, if men hadn’t been so awful about women competing in football, it would have been at an acceptable standard now? Now I know social media wasn’t around then, and my mum can remember which gender were the most outspoken then, and it wasn’t the ‘sisterhood’.

At a recent conference I attended, the topic of women’s sport came up. Sally Horrox (she of Y-Sport and an FA consultant) was on the panel and said: “Women’s sport cannot compare with men’s sport. It can’t and shouldn’t. What women’s sport wants to do is find its own way. To create a new script.” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know what the future of women’s sport is or what lies ahead, but comparing to the men’s equivalent doesn’t work or help matters. All I know, is that to be the best, you can only beat what is put in front of you and if the Aussie women are going to win gold in Rio, then it’s not their fault that the ‘standard’ is not up to ‘male’ expectations. Surely that is good business sense – go for gold in a sport that is still growing, now equal across the world, and become Olympic champion!

I love watching sport. I love the journey it takes people on, the emotions, the blood, sweat and tears. The stories, the magic, and the inspiration. I couldn’t give a toss what gender/race /religion. The reason being – I DON’T COMPARE!! Try this approach, Rod, you might even start to enjoy it!! 😉


Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles

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