Written by Jen Offord

Health

When Can This Girl?

When it comes to the advancement of women’s sport, Jen Offord says there’s no time to be grateful for how far things have come. Now is the time to keep pushing.

Rugby captains (L-R) Sara Barattin (Italy), Sarah Hunter (England), Gaelle Mignot (France), Carys Phillips (Wales), Niamh Briggs (Ireland) and Lisa Martin (Scotland). Photo: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

The concept of women’s rugby is not a new one to me, it having been a popular activity among friends while I was at university.

Of course this was back in the day, when the draw of the University of Sussex’s Sports Fed night at a local club centred more around drinking cheap, garishly coloured alcopops that made your poo look like Joseph’s famous coat, than on actually playing rugby (to be honest, it still would, though less so the bowel movements).

Nonetheless, back in those days I knew far more women who played rugby than say football, or even netball.

In fact it’s the Women’s Six Nations at the moment, happening in parallel with all sorts of other big things in the women’s game – including the announcement of a new competition. Women’s Super Rugby will consist of 10 women’s teams and will require those involved to meet certain standards (such as hiring a professional coach; think about this ‘standard’ in the context of the men’s game) designed to improve ‘professionalism’ in the game.

It’s a condescending statement – particularly if you are one of the few professional female rugby players already doing the rounds – but its intentions are undoubtedly good and it shows a commitment to and investment in women’s sport.

With all this in mind, the increasing popularity and rapidly advancing ‘professionalism’, the champions of women’s sport may well ask themselves, again: “Why then, if you’re telling me how popular this game is becoming, can I not see it live on my TV?” – the one thing that would have the single biggest impact in terms of inspiring and therefore enhancing the talent pool.

Because as was the case last year, following the extensive listing of the coverage of the men’s tournament, the BBC’s guide to where you can see the women’s games says: “In addition, you can watch selected Women’s Six Nations matches live on Connected TV and online, highlights on BBC Two and online.”

Over on ITV, they’re letting a woman (World Cup and seven-time Six Nations champion, Maggie Alphonsi) talk about men’s rugby, so I suppose we should count our blessings for that at least.

Rewind to just a year ago and the women’s Six Nations competition had been dropped by swathes of players in favour of focusing on the Rio Olympics, in which Rugby 7s was a new sport.

Of course, the Six Nations took a bit of a hammering on the talent front as a result, and sports journalists whispered to each other about the “absolute disgrace of what’s happening in the women’s competition”. What? That they’re choosing to prioritise an event that more than 30 people will watch and will provide a valuable platform for their talents and the development of their sport in general?

“Female elite athletes are almost encouraged to feel grateful for the progress they’ve collectively made. The number of times I’ve heard a sportswoman being interviewed saying things like, ‘OK, maybe it’s not my time – but for the next generation…'”

It is of course true that you can watch these games online, which is great if you already know you like rugby and you want to watch it. But how many little boys will be inspired to play after happening to stumble across coverage on terrestrial television – in the way that people will have during the Olympics, which was so lambasted at the time for ‘ruining’ the women’s Six Nations. For who? Did anyone even know it was on?

And it’s the same old story with the She Believes Cup. The football tournament apparently named after an inspirational meme on a sanitary towel brand’s Instagram account, but one that features the England women’s team – you know, the England team that are actually alright at kicking a ball.

Why aren’t I seeing that on my TV? What about the gains in women’s football in the last month or so? It’s almost as if Manchester City Ladies didn’t just sign US international and 2016 and 2015 FIFA player of the year, Carli Lloyd. Even those not following the FA Women’s Super League might have heard of her, thanks to the two Olympic golds and World Cup winners’ medal she’s got at home.

Though the name of the tournament is almost as misguided as those pocket mirrors the FA wanted to use to lure women into the game, you can kind of sympathise – because she fucking would have to believe to stick with this undermined and undervalued business.

And yet female elite athletes are almost encouraged to feel grateful for the progress they’ve collectively made. The number of times I’ve heard a sportswoman being interviewed saying things like, “OK, maybe it’s not my time – but for the next generation…”

Why not for you? Why shouldn’t you have the recognition you deserve? It feels a bit like when it’s asserted that it’s OK for old people to be racist because they’re from a ‘different time’. They’re not from a different world though, are they? It’s never been morally sound to be racist and it’s never been morally sound to be sexist, so what are we waiting for – for all the old people to die so we can live in a perfectly enlightened society?

I don’t want to shit on anyone’s picnic here, but I presume we have all read the headlines recently and noticed that march towards enlightenment isn’t going so well?

There might not even be a next generation to pick up the illustrious baton if Donald Trump’s thumbs are anywhere near as clumsy on the red button as they are on his Twitter feed. We are not, nor is our health, ‘additional’ to men’s sport, and we are a long way from enlightenment if that’s not recognised.

@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