Women’s equality is key

Women’s sport in the UK has always had to play second-fiddle to the more popular, most would say “higher standard”, male equivalent.

While top male England footballers earn hundreds of thousands of pounds per week playing for their clubs, the females are forced to juggle full-time jobs alongside it, often having to take their annual leave of holiday when competing in summer tournaments such as the World Cup.

But football is not the only example where this is the case, it can be applied to basically any professional sport in Britain.

The All England Club didn’t start paying equal prize money at the Wimbledon Championships until 2007, when they finally increased the women’s pay out to bring them in line with the grand slam tournaments in United States and Australia.

When attitudes within official bodies are seemingly so unwilling to change, it’s no wonder public opinion is often as discouraging.There is often a certain amount of derision at the mention of a woman playing a traditionally male sport, and there is often a certain amount of disdain that follows the mention of girls playing the likes of football, rugby or cricket.

But is this fair? Genetics mean that strength and power could not be equalled when comparing a male sportsman to a female, but the same can’t be said for skill and technique, which are surely the aspects of a sport that make it aesthetically pleasing.

The national women’s football team made it to the final of the European Championships last year, while England’s women cricketers won both the ICC World Cup and the Twenty20 World Cup. With successes such as this in the nation’s two most popular sports, you would hope that the appropriate media coverage would be given to celebrate the achievements of our top sportswomen.

But this hasn’t been the case. Even the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports, Andy Burnham expressed his concern over the issue in The Observer, stating that, “women’s sport is woefully absent from our television screens, radios and newspapers. Half of the population is not being adequately served. We need culture change in sport and broadcasting.” Chief Executive of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Federation (WSFF), Sue Tibballs, commented: “Our research shows that the lack of women’s sport on TV means that girls grow up in a culture which says that sport isn’t really for them.

“Any glance through the TV listings will show that women’s sport gets only a fraction of the coverage that men’s sports get and given that our women are currently having much more success than the men internationally we believe this should be reversed.”

University offers a fantastic opportunity for students to take up a sport and it’s no different here at Lincoln where there are male and female teams from sports everything from badminton to volleyball.

According to a report by the WSFF, the highest levels of women’s participation in sport are among students. The Linc spoke to three key members of women’s team at the University of Lincoln to find out how their experiences had differed.

Sophie Barker, 19, plays for OOH Lincoln City Ladies and as a first year is part of the Women’s Football Club. “When I was younger none of the girls ever wanted to play football so I always used to play with the boys. The girls just used to sit and watch admiring all the boys play, while I was just trying to be better than them,” she said.

“I played in a boys’ team until I was 11 and the standard was a lot better than the girls and I used to enjoy playing with boys more. I was the youngest player to have played for Lincoln Ladies first team at 15 and I found it extremeley difficult to fit in as the other girls didn’t really want to associate themselves with me at first. I nearly quit football because I really didn’t enjoy playing.

“Although now I can express myself and get to know the girls that’s all changed.  I have never been picked on but there is a lot of banter from the boys, they say the usual ‘girls can’t play football’. Some girls just look at you with stuck up noses but I don’t really care what they think, it hasn’t affected my participation in football, although if I were insecure I’m sure it might have done.”

Jessica Starling, 20, is a member of the Women’s Basketball Club and says she can understand why some women’s sports aren’t as appealing: “Athletics and tennis always attract a lot of coverage and deserve to because of the level they compete at. Even though I enjoy watching women’s football, if I had the choice I would still watch men as I think it’s more enjoyable to view.

“Within basketball I haven’t come across as much sexism as I have when playing football or other sports. Normally people just ask me why I don’t play netball instead! I have never been discouraged from playing basketball because of comments or other people’s perceptions. Even though I was bullied for being a ‘tomboy’, it never stopped me from playing.”

Joey Render, 22, is a member of the Women’s Rugby Club, which boasts over 40 members. She commented: “I think the coverage of women’s sport is ridiculous. We really don’t get a fair deal. I think if a national team reaches a semi-final or final then it should be broadcast on an easily accessible channel.

“In our league games at home the men’s teams always come to support us which I found really suprising, although a women’s game will always be put on the worst pitch because the good ones need to be kept for the men, which really makes me mad. Occasionally you come across men who think women should not play. One bloke once told me it was ‘against nature!’ But it doesn’t really bother me because I know how happy rugby makes me – it has given me so many opportunities.”

With the increased level of participation in female sports continuing to rise, hopefully there will be a shift in attitude so women can stop living in the shadows of their male counterparts.

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