Written by Jen Offord

Health

What’s the story?

Women’s sport is grabbing more headlines. That’s good, right? Well, says our sports correspondent Jen Offord, it would be if they were about the sports rather than the same old same old.

Maria Sharapova: in the news, but for the right reasons? Photo by Haruneskar, via Wikimedia Commons.

In comparison to what can often feel like slim pickings in the world of women’s sport, the last two weeks have provided a bumper crop of stories for me to choose from for my regular sporty chat.

We’ve had Jess Varnish’s ‘vindication’ after a leaked report highlighted that the initial report made by an inquiry into accusations of sexism levelled by the former world champion against former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton had seemed to paint him in a less favourable light.

The Football Association has once again been making noises about how to get more women – double the number by 2020, in fact – into the beautiful game (just months after suggesting the way to do so was to offer women pocket mirrors as an incentive to play).

In tennis, Maria Sharapova hit the headlines for being given wildcards to secure entry into tournaments that she would no longer qualify for, having dropped out of the world rankings during her 15-month ban for doping. Should she have been welcomed back with open arms, or should she have been told to do her time again and prove her commitment to the sport by starting from scratch in the lower-level tournaments?

And of course Muirfield golf club: who could forget those loveable rogues, voting on whether or not they wanted to let women be allowed to join their club, from which they have – until now – been excluded. In the year 2017.

Unbelievably, Muirfield provides the main ‘good news’ story this week, because the club did indeed vote to allow women to become members, following last year’s backlash against them and the threat that they may no longer be eligible to host major tournaments if they did not. We imagine that after all the hoo-ha, applicants are unlikely to be queuing around the block to take a turn around the green (hopefully not too slowly).

It’s great to see women’s sport actually reported by mainstream media, but how do the headlines compare to men’s sport? How many good news stories have been presented to us this week and how many tell us about the actual achievements of women?

“It’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day in women’s sport, isn’t it? And what must that be doing for the perception of women in sport?”

One of the reasons I believe sport should be of greater import to women is the often overlooked relevance and significance of it: the way in which it reflects society’s triumphs and failings. Perhaps in the case of women’s sports the failings – so much more widely reported on – are the reasons why fewer of us engage.

Because the issues highlighted in this week’s women’s sports round-up are painfully familiar to most women, even if the context is not. This week’s stories tell us women’s concerns about sexism and inequality are not taken seriously, sometimes by either sex. They tell us that women are not given enough agency to look towards finding their own solutions to their own problems and must instead be condescended to by men who think they know better.

Somewhere between the headlines we see women being judged on their appearance; that above all else their value will be determined by their marketability rather than talent or, even in some cases (*coughs* Sharapova), whether they are actually deserving. And they tell us that we must celebrate breakthroughs that should have come years ago, and without the threat of losses to those responsible for maintaining the status quo.

Ironically, in an interview back in October about getting more women into football, Martin Glenn, chief executive of the FA and the man charged with solving women’s problems with football, told the press that perception of the sport had to change among girls and their parents.

But it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day in women’s sport, isn’t it? And what must that be doing for the perception of women in sport?

How can it be possible that the same stories come around again and again, often with no real resolution presented? Should we really be grateful for simply the distant promise of resolution? A strategy or an inquiry to pick up the scraps, if we’re lucky enough to get any at all?

Should we really be grateful that Muirfield now accepts a perceived threat to their lunchtime snacking should not be taken more seriously than a threat to gender equality? That the FA has ultimately held their hands up and accepted that as an organisation they’ve completely failed women until now?

Look at any sports homepage for mainstream media outlets and you will see almost every headline about men’s sport is a match report, squad announcements, signings or previews. Conversely you will struggle to find any coverage of women’s sport at all, but if you do, overwhelmingly the news relates to issues around sports culture rather than the actual sports.

These are all important conversations to have. But maybe these headlines simply reassert the message that sport is a thankless task for women, and an uphill struggle they must endure to ultimately face little reward, or often even credit.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen