Girls CAN catch – but will they ever be truly equal in the world of sport?

With the recent ‘sexism-scandal’ surrounding Sky sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys, as a female sports fan, player, coach and aspiring journalist it begs the question whether I will ever be able to truly compete in a world dominated by men, especially if these are the opinions held by those at the front of one of the most popular sports networks.

I’m not going to join in with the discussion of whether or not they should have been sacked but I do believe they should have known better to be having what I have read people describe as ‘laddish banter’ anywhere near a microphone, switched off or not – and whether ‘laddish banter’ or not, there surely is no place for it with those who front a channel which is at the forefront of sports broadcasting, as women are still fighting to break into this world.

For me, the off-side rule is something I have known ever since I was a little girl being taken to MacDiarmid Park by my dad and brother.  However, for pretty much all of my closest female friends it was, and probably still is, something they don’t and will never know.  Now, is there actually anything wrong with this?  I don’t necessarily think so.  The fact is that society encourages girls to wear pink, play with dolls and like shopping and make-up.  Boys are brought up in blue, with toy cars and kicking a football about.  That is just the way it is.

It so happened that I was brought up in pink, playing with dolls but also joined in with my brother and his friends on the football pitch, climbing trees and stealing his remote control cars.  My dad took me to the football and the rugby but my mum also took me shopping and introduced me to make-up.  I was happy to have the best of both worlds, but for many other girls the idea of running about getting sweaty with a football or even watching people running about getting sweaty with a football was and is their idea of hell – and they certainly have no desire to ever know the off-side rule.

Where the real trouble lies is not within these stereotypes (which are often true) but for the girls that are actually involved in sport and have aspirations to be part of this male-dominated world – those who go against these typecasts formed by society.  There are a lot of issues which I don’t want to get in to too deeply; the lack of opportunity for women, lack of coverage in the media and women not being taken as seriously as men.  The trouble is the handful of women who are involved in sport are being labelled with the majority of women who are not and don’t ever want to be, and that is what needs to change.

Now, I’m not someone who believes that women should be able to compete alongside men in football, rugby, tennis and golf.  Physiologically I am not blind to the fact that this is simply impossible.  Men are stronger than women, can run faster than women and our bodies are simply made differently.  Women now receive the same prize money in Wimbledon than men but don’t play the same amount of games…why?  Because they physically can’t.  So should the prize-money have been equalised?  That’s a debate for another day.

Despite these physiological differences, however, there definitely is an issue with the representation of women in sport.  Football, rugby, golf, netball, basketball…all sports in which women play to a high level yet no TV station is prepared to put any coverage their way.  The media and sport are so inextricably linked in society today that if a main stream channel like the BBC was to produce a well-made programme surrounding women’s football, I thoroughly believe that people would watch it and in turn it would be a fantastic starting point in giving female athletes the recognition they deserve – not alongside men trying to compete against or with them but on their own merit.

And what about coaches and officials?  I am desperate to see the first ever female football manager (and in truth, I have dreams and aspirations that one day that might be me!).  The trouble again here is that if a female assistant referee working at a premiership game causes men who are well-known faces of Sky football to be caught up in such a sexism scandal, is the door for others ever really going to be open?  Referees have a hard enough time as it is, but a female referee would have to prove themselves even more, constantly being judged on their decisions alongside their gender.  That would be enough to put anyone off.

It’s a harsh reality of the world we live in and I don’t think the gender stereotypes between men and women that exist will ever be eradicated.  I’m not even trying to deny that there is an element of truth in many of them.  Perhaps however, if there were more women in sport across the board it would go a long way towards it being more accepted by men, showing we can belong in their world.

Overall, there’s always going to be stereotypes and the reason they exist is because a lot of the time they are true – most girls don’t know the off-side rule.  But give us a chance guys – don’t tag us all with the same brush, because believe it or not, some girls can catch.  The question of whether this will ever be truly recognised in the world of sport is yet to be answered.

Jo Wilson


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