With the BBC announcing it will be showing the whole of the UEFA Women’s Euros for the first time this July and Maria Miller, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, hosting a round table for sports broadcasters urging them to feature more women last month, the state of women in sport is changing. We asked award-winning sports journalist, Sue Mott, why there’s a new feeling of hope in the air for 2013 – and why it really is such an amazing time for women in sport.
Picture credit: Rex
“It was slightly bizarre to be a female football writer in the Eighties. It didn’t help that I wore a giant rabbit fur coat because the press box at Nottingham Forest was freezing. Nor that Brian Clough, the notorious Forest manager, could never remember my name so called me: ‘Oi, you with the teeth’ across the car park.
We were unexplainable one-offs, Julie Welch and I, the women who wanted to write about football, treated with both memorable courtesy and dark suspicion as we tried to break through the reinforced-concrete ceiling that decreed women could be waitresses and WAGs in the life of footballers but not wielders of a pen. I remember being told by a well-respected football writer that women playing football was akin to watching “dogs walking around on their hind legs.”
Fast forward to 2012 and not only did the women’s football team attract 70,000 to Wembley but the number of female journalists covering the event was definitely more than two. (No-one made an issue of their teeth either.) Ennis, Pendleton, Gibbons, Dujardin, Glover, King, Cook, Adlington, Tweddle and more were the almighty agents of change. Male and female sports journalists reported on male and female athletes. The story was the thing and, according to the editors, remains so.
To truly capitalise [on the London Olympics], women’s sport needs a higher media profile.
Malcolm Vallerius, the Mail On Sunday’s sports editor told me, “Jess, Nicola, Laura, Vicky, Lizzie, Allie and Sarah are all household names now. Because of their successes, it is easy to project their achievements in the paper.” The players themselves feel it too. “Last year there were so many breakthroughs – from women’s boxing to the highest female athlete representation ever – so now is the time to push it. We must capitalise on everything that has been achieved so far,” says Lynne Beattie, captain of the GB women’s volleyball team.
Kelly Simmons, head of the national game at the Football Association believes, “This is the most exciting time for women’s football in Britain. The Olympics were a game changer for us.” But (and there is always a but), London 2012 was a unique experience. Before the Olympics and Paralympics, the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation did the maths and discovered that women’s sport achieved 5% of media coverage.
The figures suggested that women’s sport was reckoned to be a sub-par outing. Stylist’s own Fair Game campaign – launched in April 2012 – was an innovation born of frustration. To truly capitalise, women’s sport needs a higher media profile. Stylist columnist and broadcaster Clare Balding wants to ‘change the world’ by establishing a new online outlet for women’s sport while the FA are confident that they will sign eight commercial partners for women’s football. Significant steps. Even the sports editor of The Sun, Mike Dunn, is up for more women’s stories. And do they have to be good-looking too? ‘Don’t be silly,’ he replied.”