“[Sports] can change girls from being worried that they aren’t skinny enough, that their jeans aren’t size zero, that their lips weren’t big enough and their hair didn’t swish enough, to asking ‘hang on, what can my body do for me?’” says the veteran sports presenter.
Clare Balding is the perfect example of a glass-ceiling-smashing woman. In the man’s world that is sport, she’s reported from six Olympic Games, become the face of the rugby league coverage and was the first female commentator at Wimbledon.
After 25 years in sports broadcasting, it’s safe to say she understands the power that women trying, playing and winning can have, and now she’s encouraging all of us to see it, too.
Speaking to Stylist, she says: “[Sports] can change girls from being worried that they aren’t skinny enough, that their jeans aren’t size zero, that their lips weren’t big enough and their hair didn’t swish enough, to asking ‘hang on, what can my body do for me?’”
And in our current climate, getting people involved is more important to Balding than ever.
“When you look at a the crisis in our younger generation and the obsession with turning the camera on yourself, and therefore the insecurity that comes from that, I think sport is a really important way of showing that things can be another way,” she tells us.
However, according to cricket charity Chance to Shine, just 57% of girls play sport outside of school or college, compared to 79% of boys. And when the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation looked into why women weren’t getting involved in exercise, it found that the male-dominated narrative put them off as ‘being sporty is felt to be at odds with being feminine’, and that the female invisibility in sport gives ‘women the sense that they do not belong.’
Speaking at the launch of the BBC’s Summer of Women in Sport, which will see June and July jam packed with women’s sport across their channels, Balding spoke of how important making female athletes and sports stars visible is: “For me, it’s about creating those moments where women are in the spotlight, because you can’t make iconic figures unless you give them the airtime, the facetime, the print time,” Balding says.
“It’s about making sure that women of all shapes and sizes, women with loud voices and women with quiet voices, women who are aggressive on the pitch and the women who are quieter and more subtle, that everybody gets their moment and girls, and adults too, get to see women and think ‘there’s someone who’s a bit like me!’.”
The good thing is that things are changing: it may seem small, but Balding says this year was the first when she was allowed to prefix the men’s boat race with a gender, rather than just calling them ‘the boat race’ and ‘the women’s boat race’, giving equal importance and emphasis to both races.
And she’s using her place to call others out and remind them of the importance of equal reporting: “When I listen to the sports bulletin and there isn’t any women’s sports on it I fire off a text to somebody and say ‘well why didn’t you just say here’s the men’s sport? Because clearly women aren’t doing anything on Tuesday!’.”
Safe to say that Balding (and these amazing sports women) are our new superheroes, then.