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 Images
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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.