The England rugby team trounced the Aussies this summer and forced the all-powerful New Zealand side to their first defeat in a decade.
If that surprises you, no wonder. You're probably thinking of the men, not the rather more successful women, whose triumphs warranted only a paragraph or two in most of the national press. Fans of the winning team would have looked in vain for much serious coverage – which is why, this week, a new publishing company launches The Sportswoman, a glossy monthly magazine with a £3 cover price dedicated to women's sport.
The first issue features Denise Lewis, the Olympic gold medallist, as cover girl, the well-respected journalist Sue Mott examines the rise of women's rowing, and there is a feature on grass roots women's cricket. Consumer surveys assess the best running shorts and sports bras while the travel feature gives the lowdown on the parties as well as the sailing at Cowes Week. The photographs eschew the Wimbledon tendency of picturing the prettiest girl to highlight women as athletes.
In the editor's chair is Julie Potter, 33, a softball player who rowed at university before winning three caps with the England rugby side and embarking on a journalistic career in sport. "This is my dream job," she says.
She had long believed there was a need for such a magazine but it was Sandy Howard, a publisher who left Reed Elsevier to found his own venture, Lincombe Publishing, who thought up the new title to fill the perceived gap in the market. "There are a lot of magazines catering for women who do sporting activities to stay fit and look good, but very little coverage of competitive women's sports," says Potter. "Yet a lot of women give up time and effort and income to participate in competitive sports with very little media recognition."
There are 10,000 registered women rugby players, for instance, and nearly 6,000 registered for volleyball. Virtually every major football club has a women's team and interest in cricket is soaring, partly helped by increased funding through the lottery.
Not only does this provide a raft of potential readers, but Potter argues that they are also highly desirable to advertisers. A majority get involved in sport at university, making them part of the bright, affluent ABC1 market.
Although some might think the diversity of sports on offer a problem – will netball players want to know about the best climbing walls? – Potter thinks it will be an advantage. "There is a feeling of solidarity among women because women's sport is still under-represented. Any success in one sport is looked on with great interest from others," she says. Although leading male writers will contribute, she also hopes to encourage more writing by women.
Paul Hayward, chief sports writer on The Daily Telegraph believes it will do well. "Newspapers constantly fret about how to attract women readers, and some sports desks are guilty of creating testosterone ghettos," he says. "The solution is more women reporters and wider coverage for women's sports. I'm certain that any publication that recognises this need will be a great success."
Amanda Bennett, senior manager of the Women's Sports Foundation, agrees that the need is undoubted but warns it is a very difficult market and previous attempts to carve out a woman's title have not proved successful. "There's a real dearth of coverage," she says. "But previous publications on women's sport have found it hard to survive."
Julie Potter needs 1,500 subscribers within three months and 5,000 to enable a move on to the news-stands. But she is confident that more is possible. "We could be hitting subscriptions of around 20,000 by the end of the year if we get the word out," she says. "A magazine like this might have struggled a few years ago, but in the last 10 years, and in the last five in particular, women's sport has become bigger and more powerful and better funded than ever. I know there's a demand."
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