Laura Winter makes a case for why we should have women’s sports awards.
I attended the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year awards this week. It was a chance to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of some of the best sportswomen in the country, women who have made us laugh, cheer, shout, scream, and cry while striving to be the best.
The Lionesses scooped the top prize, the Action Woman of the Year award, after winning the first World Cup medal since 1966 this summer, beating Germany to win bronze. But it wasn’t simply about who came first. The evening itself was a wonderful reflection on what has been a groundbreaking and historic year for women’s sport.
For the first time in history, Oxford and Cambridge Boat Club rowed alongside their male counterparts on the Tideway as the Boat Race became the Boat Races.
We have two world champions in cycling – Lizzie Armitstead on the road and Rachel Atherton on the mountain bike.
England are European hockey champions and Jessica Ennis-Hill was crowned world champion just over one year after giving birth.
But what about the men? I can practically hear the whispers. And yes, it is true. If we as women and feminists demand equality surely we shouldn’t celebrate token awards ceremonies just for women?
And the same applies in my work for a women’s cycling TV show. What about male cyclists?
I would hazard a guess that the majority of the women present last night wish there didn’t have to be a women’s only awards show.
We all want to live in a world where good sport is simply that, good sport, no matter who is playing it. But we don’t. We live in a world where social stereotypes, prejudices and traditions have left women on the peripheries of sport for too long.
With no one investing in women’s sport, no one was watching. With no one watching, no one was investing. That is a vicious circle that has taken until now to break.
Think for a moment. What if, all of a sudden, men were banned from playing football.
Well in 1921, this is what happened to women. They had enjoyed 25 years playing the game, before they were banned from all affiliated FA grounds until as recently as 1971.
The reason? “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”.
When women’s sport has been marginalised, banned, and received little to no monetary support, is it any wonder it is not as developed as men’s sport?
When female sports stars are patronised and objectified rather than treated as athletes, is it any wonder women’s sport isn’t taken seriously?
In 2009, there was not one woman in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist. This year, there are only three, out of the 12 nominees.
Put simply, if those making editorial decisions about shortlists are predominantly men, who have previously enjoyed male sports and taken sportsmen more seriously than their female counterparts, they are more likely to value male achievements over women’s.
We need to change the status quo. I wish we didn’t. I wish we had equality. I wish sporting coverage and recognition was based on achievement, passion and human interest.
I wish sportswomen weren’t called dykes, or told they should get back in the kitchen, or told they don’t know the offside rule, or continually reduced to sex objects.
The vicious circle has been broken and progress has been made. With exposure comes knowledge and with knowledge comes investment.
But while we still live in a world where pockets of men within sport are clearly so threatened by women they feel the need to continue hateful ostracisation, we will have to shout louder.