England captain Charlotte Edwards poses with the Women's Ashes trophy in Australia in February. Photo: Getty
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Why is the media still erasing women’s achievement in sport?

Within sport, women athletes are finally gaining the professional recognition they deserve. Yet the media continues to assume that “the England team” is shorthand for “the men’s team”.  

Last night in the lavish Long Room at Lord’s in north-west London, the England cricketer of the year awards were announced.

Ian Bell has been widely reported as being this year’s “player of the year”, thanks to his valiant contributions with the bat against Australia, and this has been covered extensively in the media (including a lengthy interview in the Guardian with Vic Marks, tweets from the BBC’s highly respected Test Match Special last night, and a discussion on Radio 4 this morning).

Yet this wasn’t the award the England and Wales Cricket Board gave to Bell. 

They’re very clear – he’s “men’s player of the year”. Multi-Ashes-winning captain Charlotte Edwards was named “women’s player of the year” – yet she’s either ignored or relegated to a single sentence, as if her achievements are not even worth covering.

In fact, the ECB have been excellent at promoting and investing in women’s cricket. Earlier this summer, they announced they were awarding central contracts to their top players, enabling them to fundamentally be professional athletes instead of having to juggle a day job in order to subsidise their sport. And they’re also working to encourage girls and women at grassroots – their very successful Chance to Shine programme works with young people, and their new Club Open Days initiative is actively aiming to get more women involved as well.

The same curious media erasure of women’s prizes happened with the PFA player of the year awards – they make it extremely plain indeed that they’re giving prizes to their men’s player of the year and their women’s player of the year, but the media just reported on the chap – the ever-controversial Luis Suarez, ignoring the title-winning Lucy Bronze.

And that comes after the FA – not known for their gender innovations or historical promotion of women’s football, having only taken real control of it in the past 20 years – have rolled out a second division to their successful Women’s Super League. Meanwhile, England’s route to the World Cup – to be held in Canada next year – has been crushing so far: six games played, 33 goals scored, none conceded.

This phenomenon interests me particularly at the moment. It’s the timing that’s most interesting: it comes just after the entire Scudamore farrago in the Premier League, and Ernests Gulbis’s recent comments about women in tennis. It’s easy to wring hands about sport perpetuating gender stereotypes and offering outlets for lazy, unthinking sexism. And it’s easy to complain about governing bodies not promoting women’s sport, and blaming them for its low profile.

But that’s a very simplistic analysis of the problem – and it’s not accurate. Leaving aside nastily-worded emails sent by executives or the ridiculous hyperbole uttered in press conferences, there are equally significant dangers presented by more covert, insidious sexism – sexism that gets dismissed as “just the way things are”. 

For example, there’s a question-mark around how many women are going to Brazil to cover any aspect of the World Cup for a British newspaper (just two – Hadley Freeman of the Guardian and Donna Bowater of the Telegraph, according to Women in Journalism, although the Guardian’s Amy Lawrence is funding her own trip). This increased homogeneity of sports coverage is a real concern for anyone interested in a diverse media – and yet recently leading journalists have dismissed the idea that there’s any problem with white middle-class men’s domination of sports writing. 

And one of the potential problems of this male juggernaut is an utter lack of self-awareness. Without a broad range of people involved in the writing, editing and publication (or broadcast) process, the same tired sexism continues to be churned out.

Just look at the nasty undertone to some of the coverage of Maria Sharapova’s French Open win (with one broadsheet writer – who is usually excellent on women’s sport – referring to her modelling persona as playing the “bimbo”). 

And yes, as Charlotte Edwards has no doubt been long aware, there continues to be a quiet erasing of the achievements of elite female athletes, treating the men’s games as “normal” and women’s sport as add-ons: the Radio 4 debate said that England had a bad year of cricket – despite Edwards’ squad’s multiple series wins – because the shorthand is that “England” simply means “the men’s team”.

Perhaps the media should stop haranguing those within sport just for the time being – and better use their time by looking significantly closer to home when it comes to ingrained, endemic sexism.

Carrie Dunn is a writer and academic. Her book “Female Football Fans: Community, Identity and Sexism” is published by Palgrave

Photo: Getty
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Leader: Corbyn’s second act

Left-wing populism is not enough – Labour must provide a real alternative.

Since Jeremy Corbyn first stood for the Labour leadership he has been fortunate in his opponents. His rivals for leader ran lacklustre campaigns in 2015 and failed to inspire members and activists who longed to escape the tortured triangulations of the Ed Miliband era. Later, at the 2017 general election, Mr Corbyn was confronted by a dismal Conservative campaign that invited the electorate’s contempt. Theresa May’s complacency – as well as Mr Corbyn’s dynamic campaign –has helped propel the Labour leader to a position from which he could become prime minister.

With greater power, however, comes greater responsibility. Mr Corbyn’s opponents have for too long preferred to insult him or interrogate his past rather than to scrutinise his policies. They have played the man not the ball. Now, as he is a contender for power rather than merely a serial protester, Mr Corbyn’s programme will be more rigorously assessed, as it should be. Over the months ahead, he faces the political equivalent of the “difficult second album”. 

Labour’s most electorally successful – and expensive – election policy was its pledge to abolish university tuition fees. Young voters were not only attracted by this promise but also by Mr Corbyn’s vow, in an interview with the free music paper NME, to “deal with” the issue of graduate debt. The Labour leader has since been accused of a betrayal after clarifying that the phrase “to deal with” did not amount to a “commitment” to wipe out student debt. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, he explained that he had been “unaware of the size of it [graduate debt] at the time”. (The cost of clearing all outstanding student debt is estimated at £100bn.)

In fairness to Mr Corbyn, Labour’s manifesto said nothing on the subject of existing student debt (perhaps it should have) and his language in the NME interview was ambiguous. “I’m looking at ways that we could reduce that [graduate debt], ameliorate that, lengthen the period of paying it off,” he said. There is no comparison with the Liberal Democrats, who explicitly vowed not to raise tuition fees before trebling them to £9,000 after entering coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Yet the confusion demonstrates why Mr Corbyn must be more precise in his policy formulations. In a hyperactive media age, a single stray sentence will be seized upon.

At the general election, Labour also thrived by attracting the support of many of those who voted to remain in the European Union (enjoying a 28-point lead over the Conservatives among this group). Here, again, ambiguity served a purpose. Mr Corbyn has since been charged with a second betrayal by opposing continued UK membership of the single market. On this, there should be no surprise. Mr Corbyn is an ardent Eurosceptic: he voted against the single market’s creation in 1986 and, from the back benches, he continually opposed further European integration.

However, his position on the single market puts him into conflict with prominent Labour politicians, such as Chuka Umunna and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, as well as the party membership (66 per cent of whom support single market membership) and, increasingly, public opinion. As the economic costs of Brexit become clearer (the UK is now the slowest-growing G7 country), voters are less willing to support a disruptive exit. Nor should they. 

The worse that Britain fares in the Brexit negotiations (the early signs are not promising), the greater the desire for an alternative will be. As a reinvigorated opposition, it falls to the Labour Party to provide it. Left-wing populism is not enough. 

The glory game

In an ideal world, the role of sport should be to entertain, inspire and uplift. Seldom does a sporting contest achieve all three. But the women’s cricket World Cup final, on 23 July at Lord’s, did just that. In a thrilling match, England overcame India by nine runs to lift the trophy. Few of the 26,500 spectators present will forget the match. For this may well have been the moment that women’s cricket (which has for so long existed in the shadow of the men’s game) finally broke through.

England have twice before hosted women’s World Cups. In 1973 matches were played at small club grounds. Twenty years later, when England won the final at Lord’s, the ground was nearly empty, the players wore skirts and women were banned from the members’ pavilion. This time, the players were professionals, every ticket was sold, and the match was shown live around the world. At the end, girls and boys pressed against the advertising hoardings in an attempt to get their heroes’ autographs. Heather Knight, Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Taylor, Tammy Beaumont, and the rest of the team: women, role models, world champions. 

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue