Not a level playing field

I’m starting to think I should rename this blog “examples of sexism in sport”… Hmm.

It’s the Women’s Euros in Sweden at the moment, and I’ve genuinely rather enjoyed the coverage of it on BBC news in the mornings. We always have BBC Breakfast on as we’re getting ready for work and I like that it presents sport in an engaging and accessible way. I am by no means a sports nut (I’ll freely admit it, I’ll never really grasp the scoring system in tennis), but I watch it and feel I understand both the game itself, the significance, and a little bit about the actual sportsmen and women involved, too.

Their main sports presenter, Sally Nugent, has been out in Sweden following the team for the past couple of weeks. However, after a bit of a lackluster performance capped off by a 3-0 loss to France, England’s women haven’t made it out of the Group stage, and are coming home.

Fair enough, you may think. They obviously didn’t play their best (or maybe they did, and just other teams are better?), and watching the report this morning I found myself weirdly appreciative of the fact that they discussed whether Hope Powell, the coach, might now be out of a job. This is, I nodded to myself, exactly how a coach or manager in the men’s game would be treated. Jolly good, then.

I don’t even think the scathing comments on the team’s performance were uncalled for. Again, it wouldn’t be unusual for the men’s team to get such a drubbing, if they had crashed out during the Group stage. What bothered me was the comments about the efforts the BBC had gone to to raise the profile of the women’s game in covering this tournament so extensively – which thanks to England’s poor performance, it was implied, were wasted.

womenseuro

This was the first women’s tournament (bar London 2012) that was given such high-profile exposure. It was on BBC News every morning, with at reporter out there with the team, and the games were live on BBC 3. That’s progress, people, and we should applaud that. But I’m really uncomfortable with the implications this morning that they should have lived up to that platform they’d been put on – that they’d been offered the chance of equal media interest to the men’s game and, in failing to play well, it had been a waste of time. They had their chance, and aren’t we good for giving it to them? But then they got knocked out. Oh dear. We won’t do that again.

The BBC can’t really be congratulating themselves for giving women’s football that equal platform, then blaming the players when they don’t live up to the results such exposure “deserves”. The men’s team rarely do that well, yet aren’t similarly expected to justify the coverage they receive . In fact one of the things I love about living in Wales is the focus on rugby, which the national team are actually pretty good at, and I can for the most part avoid the delusions of grandeur of that English football supporters have.

Giving women’s football such a platform shouldn’t have been a token gesture, only to be repeated based on success. If anything that’s just as bad as not covering it at all. This was meant to be progress, not a one-off.

Yes, they didn’t win – but neither have the men, for a very loooong time. Even I know that.

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