Girls are just too sensible for sport

I was brought up to believe that: 'Pigs sweat, gentlemen perspire, and ladies gently glow'
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The Independent Culture
WHAT I have to say on the subject of women and sport will not, I feel sure, endear me to my liberated soul sisters, or to anyone else for that matter. I am moved to say it only because of the latest welter of views that we do not produce great athletes in this country because we don't encourage girls to play competitive sport at school.

Fiddlesticks. Schoolgirls have just as much opportunity to be sporty as schoolboys - at my niece's Hertfordshire comprehensive there are more girls in the school football team than boys - it's just that they do not choose to take it up seriously afterwards. Why not? Because they've got more sense, that's why. More to the point, when girls leave school, unlike boys, they grow up. They realise that being able to jump higher, throw further and run faster than anyone else is fine on sports day but in the long run, if you see what I mean, doesn't in fact get you very far unless you're prepared to sacrifice your life to it.

It's like being a ballet dancer except that the end result isn't anything as beautiful. I can see the point of giving up junk food, alcohol and cigarettes and working out furiously if, at the end of the day (for once this over-used expression is appropriate), you get to dance Giselle. But is all that sacrifice worth it just to be able to jump eight hurdles faster than seven other people and get a pat on the back from Desmond Lynam?

All right, I admit I'm biased. I'm half Burmese, and Orientals, particularly Oriental women, are not noted for their athletic prowess - with one exception. This was my great-grandmother who, according to my mother, was a lady- in-waiting to Queen Supyalat, chief wife to the last King of Burma.

My Burmese history is sketchy but I do know that the royal court of Ava was in Mandalay, surrounded by a deep moat. The night that the King and Queen abandoned their palace to the British, my great-grandmother apparently fled to safety by leaping into the moat and swimming for her life to the other side, carrying with her a 2-ft-tall Le Pe jar made of 24-carat gold (Le Pe is a form of ceremonial tea), which subsequently became a family heirloom. "So where is it now?" I asked my mother. She said, vaguely, that it must have got lost somewhere along the line, maybe when the Japanese invaded, which is a shame because a 2-ft-tall solid gold Le Pe jar once belonging to the last Queen of Burma would fetch a bob or two at Sotheby's, I'll bet.

Aside from the mysterious disappearance of the jar, there are a number of holes in this otherwise romantic story. For one thing, it was a bloodless coup, so there would have been no need for my great-grandmother to flee for her life. She could have walked out of the palace with her bags, hailed the nearest rickshaw, piled her luggage on to it, including said jar, and trundled home to her village. If she swam across the moat it was because she chose to do so. Maybe she was in training for the 100 metres freestyle relay. Who knows? The other reason I'm inclined to doubt the authenticity of my mother's story is that no Burmese woman at that time, let alone a royal lady-in-waiting, would have known how to swim.

To this day my mother's family up in the Shan states have a horror of immodesty. When I visited them she gave me strict instructions never, ever to wear a short skirt. Preferably I should adopt a lungyi, a Burmese- style sarong. There's no way anyone could swim in a lungyi.

But I digress. We were talking about the athletic prowess of British not Burmese women and their failure to bring back Olympic gold. One reason could be the dearth of glamorous role models. With few exceptions - ice skaters, gymnasts, certain tennis players and the late lamented Florence Griffith-Joyner, aka Flo-Jo, with her sexy tracksuits and incredible fingernails - sporty women are deeply unattractive.

Now and again the tabloids run features showing women shot-putters, women marathon runners and even, God help us, women rugby players looking alluring in little black dresses, but they are the exception not the rule.

Besides, when they are doing their sport they are neither wearing little black dresses nor looking alluring. They're wearing sweaty vests and sweaty socks and sweatbands. Call me old-fashioned, but I was brought up to believe in that old maxim "Pigs sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies gently glow."

If, instead of pumping themselves full of steroids to give themselves biceps like breeze blocks, women athletes could find an elixir that would render them sporty and feminine simultaneously, I might even buy myself a Liz McColgan mini-vest to wear above my lungyi and start training for next year's London marathon.