It has been a brilliant summer so far for Women’s sport, especially in the UK. Yet society can still do better.
The England Women’s Cricket team played some amazing cricket to trounce South Africa 14-2 in the multi-format series. However in the standalone Test match, we were denied a result by too little playing time. Whilst the men’s Test sides play 5 day matches, the women still only play 4. About a day’s worth of play was lost due to bad weather, but a result would have been possible if the girls had a fifth day. Both sides played amazing cricket and either side could have won the Test (though England were in a much stronger position by the close of play), and finishing the match was the least both the players and supporters deserved. There needs to be a commitment from the International Cricket Council, and from National associations to invest in professional contracts and give female cricketers a platform to showcase their talents.
After a 2-year COVID enforced hiatus, the women-only W-Series championship came back with a bang. The invitational series is designed to give female racing drivers an opportunity to carve a path towards the male dominated Formula 1. Motorsport is effectively a unisex competition however due to the mysoginistic and brutal history of the sport, few women have ever competed at the highest levels. Whilst not the ideal solution to segregate, giving women the space to outright earn FIA superlicence points ( a system designed for safety to ensure that only that those with feeder series experience and racing talent will make it to the top racing categories) is an important step to allow women to rise up through the ranks. The first couple of races this year were sketchy, as a lot of the competitors were somewhat out of practice and had not driven an open-wheeled car in anger for over 2 years.
However the overall quality has improved with each race showing that with the same level of training, fitness and investment the girls can challenge the boys at the pinnacle of motorsport. The current F1 drivers have all come through F3 and F2 (previously GP3 and GP2) and go through rigorous fitness regimes, spend hours in simulators and spend a lot of time with engineers to really hone their craft. This is something not currently afforded to female drivers struggling to climb the ladder from the lower ranks.
Another great positive that can be taken is that the race series has found itself a superfan in Mercedes F1 driver and statistical record holder Sir Lewis Hamilton, who pledged to do more to help the girls inspiring to race alongside him. There is still work to be done, but with the right tools at their disposal, it would be great to see a few of these girls make it into Formula 2 with a chance of getting a trial for a Formula 1 seat in the near future.
The first ever modern format Tour de France Femmes took place, something that has been years in the making. In all, 8 days of thrilling bike racing culminating in the two Dutch powerhouses come away with the two most coveted Jerseys – Annamiek Van Vleuten (Yellow – General Classification) and Marianne Vos (Green – Sprinter). There was very little in the way of British representation as our biggest road stars were absent through injury or sabbatical, but all riders can be proud of being part of such an historic race. The race’s success means that the future of women’s cycling is strong, but there are still barriers that need to be removed.
Funding for women’s teams, especially independent teams, is significantly smaller, which means that the available talent pool is much shorter. Only 8 of the Men’s 18 World Tour teams (and none of the 4 wildcard/invited Continental teams) have a professional women’s team that was represented at the Tour Femmes meaning that out of the 24 teams that took part in the Tour De France Femmes, 16 are independent teams.
Currently, there are more than twice as many Men’s professional races as there are women’s. If the women’s race calendar gets stretched to the current men’s level without proper thought and consideration, the women’s sport is in danger of collapse. Teams do not have enough staff and riders to compete on so many race days currently so all steps must be gradual yet constant. Improvements also need to begin at grassroots level to provide more pathways for young female riders to get the opportunity.
For comparison, the mens World Tour teams, who have up to 30 riders on their books, take 8 riders to a Grand Tour, stage races that are over 3 weeks long – 21 race days with 2 or 3 rest days in between them. The women’s teams, by comparison comprise of half that many riders contracted to them. They took only 6 riders each and the Tour Femmes was only 8 days long. The women want to do the same as the men however to get there needs careful graduated planning and investment. The talent pool needs to grow (More riders attracted to the sport and more on professional contracts), the TV coverage and sponsorships need to increase incrementally along with the gradual and steady increase of available race days and new events.
Then the big one. The Lionesses brought football home. Overall, the quality of play and sportsmanship between all of the teams in the entire European Championships has been something to behold, and certainly something that the men’s game can learn from. Fresh from their triumph, tickets for their friendly against World Champions USA sold out in less than 72 hours from going on sale, with some outlets reporting within 24. The crowds can be very proud of themselves and their conduct, too. The scenes at Wembley are a marked difference than those from only 12 months ago when the Men’s side hosted Italy in the Euro finals. But there are still aspects of the sport, and the reaction of this result by a minority of people, that still leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
1. Women’s football has only been officially legal in the UK for 50 years. Yes. It was banned by the FA between the years of 1928 and 1972. They refused to sanction anything related to the women’s game on any pitch subjected to their approval. People are calling for Ian Wright to be given a Knighthood for saying that the girls on the pitch, and his female co-pundits deserve the centre stage, and that this should break down barriers for girls of all ages to get into the sport, otherwise the legacy of the tournament is pointless. I would wholeheartedly agree with such a notion if I was not such a skeptic of the Monarchy and the Honours system.
2. There is still a popular opinion amongst a minority that women still don’t belong on the pitch. I’d like to see those lazy good for nothings play a game against them. They’d be lucky to lose by single figures.
3. People still believe the game as a form of entertainment to be somewhat inferior. But stats don’t lie. The official attendance was 87,192. Which is a UEFA sanctioned match record for both the Men’s AND the Women’s game. British TV viewing figures peaked at 17.4 Million, according to the BBC. The Women’s side of the sport is just as good and important as the mens. And based on the exemplary behaviour of the crowds, the men’s supporters can learn a few things from them.
4. Chloe Kelly celebrated her winning goal in a way many other footballers would in that situation. And yet the images of her doing so, which have been plastered across the internet in good faith, have garnered the ugly green goblins to crawl from under their bridges to their cum-stained keyboards to write perverted and mysoginistic messages about her. If she was wearing a full length base layer she probably would not have been subjected to such messages. But she shouldn’t have to do that to avoid such vitriolic harrassment. She should have the right to wear whatever she pleases underneat the shirt, and it is nobody else’s business what she does with her body. And if she wants to pull it off and swing it over her head to celebrate, let her. Most international footballers first goals come in friendlies or in pre-tournament qualifying matches. Very few score their first in a major tournament, let alone the winning goal in a grand final. She had every damn right to show her emotion at such an occasion and there was no connotation or deliberate will to make the moment even remotely sexual. Gary Lineker should know better, bra none indeed…
It seems like society as a whole, and especially us men, need to think carefully about every small detail of our thoughts when it comes to women’s sport. Instead of uneducated criticism, think of ways that sportswomen can be elevated to the same platform as the men. If an image of a semi-naked sportswoman gives you a semi, keep your damn thoughts to yourself. Make your own sandwich and do your own ironing once in a while.