Time to watch some sport – in the interests of equality

March 7, 2019

We all need balance in our lives. We’re always hearing about the work/life balance, a balanced diet, a balanced outlook etc. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter, aimed at encouraging us to consider the gender balance in all things.

At Milton Keynes College we pursue a determined policy regarding equalities of all kinds. Of course there is a strong moral case for challenging inequality but people often forget that the business case for equality is unarguable. Simply put, if you don’t hire people because of their gender, their race, religion, disability or any other characteristic they may have, you’re limiting the talent pool from which to pick the best people. Excellence comes in all shapes and sizes, genders and ages, beliefs and behaviours. Nowhere is that more apparent than in sport.

The Women’s Football World Cup kicks off in France this summer and more than one and a half million spectators are expected to fill the stadia for the twenty-four team event. As I write the England women’s team has just beaten Japan, convincingly, to win the SheBelieves Cup for the first time. This bodes well for our chances in the World Cup itself and could indicate we will do even better than our fourth place ranking suggests. We know how a good World Cup run can cheer the nation and contribute to a feel-good summer. The competition will receive global television coverage and no doubt inspire a whole new generation of girls to take up the sport.. which is all pretty remarkable considering that in this country the FA ban outlawing the women’s game only ended in 1971. Four years ago, England’s celebrated wicketkeeper and opening bat, Sarah Taylor, made history by turning out for Northern Districts in Grade Cricket, the Australian professional equivalent of our County Championship. The popularity of England Women’s Rugby has soared in recent years, with Sky Sports reporting a 92% year-on-year increase in viewers. With all these sports, as the coverage has increased and money has flowed into the game so standards have also improved dramatically, encouraging yet more people to watch.

You don’t have to be a sports fan to celebrate this very visible progress. It is not only an indicator of falling inequality but of the willingness of the public to take women’s sport seriously. Anyone doubting the potential value to society of seeing such role models treated as high class professionals need only cast their minds back to last summer’s men’s football World Cup. The England squad was widely recognised as being representative of our diverse and multi-cultural population. Encouraged by their excellent manager, Gareth Southgate, the players actively discussed their own issues around subjects including race and mental health. Social Media was filled with people thanking the players for helping them feel more empowered to deal with their own challenges. With that in mind, the increased visibility of female sports stars can only be a good thing. So, how’s that balance thing going?

The charity, Women in Sport, conducted a survey last year of international media attitudes and found that men’s games still receive the overwhelming majority of column inches and airtime, often by a ratio of up to twenty to one. This may not seem like the most important battle to be waged but research suggests that a high profile for women’s sport not only challenges gender stereotypes and provides positive role models but it also shows women and girls sport is for them and portrays a healthy body image – all areas where balance is most definitely needed. The media are influenced by one thing – the number of viewers, listeners and readers they can attract. So, if you’re not out playing yourself this weekend or watching live, you too can do your bit to achieve that much sought-after balance; sit yourself down, stick the telly on and watch some women’s sport. It’s the only socially responsible thing to do.

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