To mark International Women’s Day, The Mixed Zone invited a cross-section of athletes, coaches and media to reveal their wishes for sport in 2018. To join in the debate, tweet your contribution to @_mixedzone with the hashtag #mywish
My wish for 2018 is that we continue to increase the live television coverage of women’s sport and that the athletes become more familiar to a broad range of people. The BBC is showing a lot of sports on the red button, which is good, but I hope that will lead to bigger things. I want kids to know not just what Fran Kirby or Ellen White or Jodie Taylor look like, but how they play, what their history is, which club they play for and why, in Jodie’s case, she decided to go back to the United States. The same with the international cricketers, rugby players, and hockey players who will compete in the World Cup this summer.
On a personal note I am trying very hard to support the idea of a drama series based on women’s football. The documentary I did for Channel 4 called ‘Why Football Banned Women’ was very well received and has generated a lot more interest in the Dick, Kerr Ladies. There is a huge amount of mileage in the story of working-class women at the beginning of the 20th century who were playing football and attracting supporters in large numbers, only for the FA to ban them. I really hope that this is something I can help get off the ground.
I wish for greater visibility of women’s sport. For our print media coverage to increase and more sports be televised. Time and time again it has been proven that there is a huge audience, yet there is still not enough covered. I believe you can’t be what you can’t see. Our young people, especially in an age when there are so many other distractions, must see both men and women competing in equal measures.
My wish for 2018 is that all young women and girls, whatever their background and ability, can access safe and enjoyable sport and physical activity. During the Winter Olympics, I loved seeing pictures of kids on home-made sleds and skates, who were inspired by the medals won by Lizzy Yarnold and Laura Deas, and by Elise Christie’s bloody-minded determination.
Now we’re looking forward to the Winter Paralympics and Commonwealth Games where there will be lots of other amazing female role models on show. So how can we find routes for the girls who want to be Millie Knight, Katie Archibald or Dina Asher-Smith? There should be no barriers. I’m inspired by my friend Sarah Hope, who has campaigned since 2012 for the NHS to fund activity blades for child amputees, after her own daughter lost a leg in an accident. The funding has just been extended by another £1.5 million, allowing many more kids to participate in sport with their friends – as Joanna Lumley put it, “like giving caged birds the wings to fly”.
It’s down to schools, local councils, sports clubs and us as parents to encourage our girls – they may never become a Lizzy or a Laura, but they should be able to have fun trying.
Sportswomen have many inestimable qualities, but not one of them is being a ‘lady’. And yet the insidious word gets shoved in all over the place – on the hallowed Centre Court at Wimbledon, on the pitch at Chelsea, on almost every golf course in the nation where the occupants have just spilled their guts and soul in ruthless combat only to resolve again into ‘ladylike-ness’ while the tumbrils remove their battered opposition.
It is a terrible lie. A pathetic sop to the view that if women must be Prime Ministers and vote and, God forbid, sweat in broad daylight, then at least let’s pretend they’re still ornaments.
No offence to Chelsea, or the other five teams in the FA Women’s Super League, who still hang on to the ‘Ladies’ title as a homage to history, but choices in the rest of the League demonstrates the slow march of progress. Three ‘Women’ and one stand-a-lone ‘Arsenal’. The London club rightly decided that, given the context, their fans could probably tell the men and women apart: if they’re losing, it’s the men.
Besides, ‘ladies’ in sport is such a pejorative term. It implies a daintiness, a genteel collection of cardigans, a shapely head tilted at an angle all the better to receive a tiara. It does not immediately conjure the monumental sight and sound of Serena Williams deconstructing an on-court rival through the awesome might of muscle power and pounding waves of self-belief.
‘Ladies’ are people you can push around. Not so long ago a bell would ring in football boardrooms an hour before the match, signalling the removal of ‘ladies’ from the vicinity so that the men could get down to serious business. You had to move quite sharpish at Liverpool where a screen was pulled across the room, dividing it in two: ‘Ladies’ and crustless sandwiches to one side, the important males to the other. It goes without saying any ‘lady’ on the board was also banned from the boardroom.
We’ve had enough of this ‘lady’ lark. Personally, I think the Women’s Super Rugby team Worcester have got it right. They don’t mess about. They’ve gone straight for the full ‘Valkyries’. The only slight flaw in that magnificent declaration is a run of results that includes a 105-0 defeat by Saracens.
So my wish for 2018 would be expunging of the fraud that sportswomen are ‘ladies’. No woman wants to be named after a public toilet.
Development Coach for England Boxing
I would love to see more professionalism within sport for women. I believe that this will play a huge part in the development of women’s sport in the future. I would also like to see more female coaches which will lead to more female athletes and more role models for future generations. I have gone from athlete to coach and I am very aware of the role I play in inspiring others in the sport, and encouraging them to continue their pathway within boxing. I hope that by getting to the level I have I can show more women that they can achieve in whatever they choose to do.
David Welch Student Sportswriter Award finalist, 2018
My wish for women’s sport in 2018 would be to increase the levels of physical activity of girls. According to the Girls Active Survey results, released in November 2017, 78 per cent of 14-16 year-old girls understand that physical activity is important and yet only 28 per cent enjoy taking part. This is hugely disappointing for someone like me, who, as a child, could not wait to play football at breaktime.
How can we make a difference? Children spend at least seven hours a day at school, interacting with their peers and teachers. This is valuable time in which to raise girls’ participation in sport.
And how to make that happen? To start with, encourage girls to be active at any recreational time whether before, during or after school. Often it is the boys who dominate the playground. Girls are intimidated by their aggression and so stay away from the active space. In order to increase engagement, set up an area for girls to do sport and promote before and after-school clubs exclusively for girls.
Then, raise the profile of women’s sport in school. Pupils often drift off in lessons and gaze at the work posted around the classroom. Use this space to incorporate female athletes into a subject. Why tell students to describe Rafael Nadal’s diet in French when you can choose Serena Williams? Putting up pupils’ presentations on female athletes will certainly catch the eye and raise awareness of women in sport. Small changes can make a huge impact.
And finally, don’t let tradition dictate the school’s choice of sports. Some schools are very restricted in the sports that they offer and have a separate curriculum for boys and girls. We need to dispel the label which implies some sports are more ‘macho’ than others and therefore not suitable for girls. If we value less mainstream sports as genuine options, provide more variety and back this up with structured coaching; girls may start to enjoy PE lessons more.
Ultimately, sport should be fun and sociable. Too many girls are missing out on opportunities to form friendships, increase their confidence and learn valuable life skills. Getting more girls involved in sport should not be a wish but a necessity.
FA Participation and Development Director
I think the challenge for women’s sport is this ‘chicken and egg’ where it struggles to get that investment through sponsorship and broadcast to really develop and promote itself. Then, you’ve got the argument coming back that women’s sport doesn’t have the kind of spectator and fan following as the popular men’s sports. But at some point you have to break that cycle. My wish would be that women’s sport could get more of the sponsorship and more support from commercial partners. The world is changing and I think increasingly, companies should be thinking about this. They’ve got male and female customers. They should be asking themselves whether they can support male and female sport in a more equal way.
Undoubtedly, there is a connection between girls’ massively lower physical activity and sporting levels and that, for me, is a crisis really. It’s worrying that the physical activity levels of children are declining, and it’s more marked among girls. We all want a happy and active nation, so I’d like to see that gap closed a bit in terms of commitment and investment from the commercial sector into women’s sport.
Why is there such a marked difference in participation levels between boys and girls? I think it’s a whole range of issues. It’s a multi-faceted problem about how girls are brought up and the traditional views around what a girl should be like. Very early on, girls often get pink toys and dolls, while boys get footballs and are encouraged to be more physically active. So they start with a better physical literacy and movement skills because they have more informal play. That breeds confidence to go out and play sport.
You switch on the television most weekends and it’s predominantly men’s sport and male sports role models. Again, that sends a message to boys about sport and inspires them. It is changing because, increasingly, girls can turn on the TV and see more women’s sport. But there’s still a massive gap. I think there’s a whole range of issues really of gender stereotypes, normalisation, opportunities and the visibility of role models.
INTERVIEW: NICK FRIEND