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

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.