Lucy Bronze's great goal at the World Cup is why women's sport is worth watching


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The Independent Football

Wimbledon begins on Monday but it’s only half the event it could be in the minds of some. For a start it has women in it.

What a waste of court space. You know these are the secret thoughts of the Sports Illustrated editor, Andy Ben-oit (specialist subject NFL), because they are no longer secret. He tweeted them. Precisely: “Women’s sport in general not worth watching.”

He then tweeted: “My sincere apologies for last night’s senseless tweeting” followed by an even more grovelling apology when reminded of his job, all the women he knows and the potential terror of Serena Williams with a grievance.

But we are indebted to the man. He serves as a powerful reminder of a firmly held belief out there that sport is a manly pursuit made for testosterone-swilling bodies (injected or otherwise) and women can only ever be half-baked imitators. That the mind, muscle, movement combo in the male species is inherently glorious, gorgeous and spectacular, while ditto in the female should be confined to a pole dance (minus the mind bit).

There is an answer to that. Jess. Many answers, in fact. A Lottie Edwards cover drive, Martina Navratilova’s nine Wimbledon victories, that missile of a goal by Lucy Bronze in the Women’s World Cup last week, every GB woman’s medal at the London 2012 Games, Tanni Grey-Thompson’s entire warrior-like career, the perfect 10 gymnastic routine of Nadia Comaneci, the World Cup winning England Women’s rugby team, Chrissie Wellington in full-pelt Ironman mode… this could be quite a roll call.

The poor man will have received the message by now that he’s an idiot, and he will also have received the simultaneous message, probably by more covert means, that loads of people agree with him. Actually, scrub that. They weren’t covert at all. Here’s one. “No, your totally right. No one cares about womans sports. Basketball no one can dunk and their breasts get in the way of everything.”

This would be hilarious were it not so tragically, limitingly, screamingly obviously the view of sports leaders too, like the (perhaps ex) Fifa president Sepp Blatter, who wanted women players in tighter shorts and presided over the decision that the current Women’s World Cup in Canada should be played on astroturf. Why? It doesn’t happen to the men. It’s one of those little giveaways of an encrusted Jurassic-era chauvinism that so characterises the governance of many of our sports. Presumably it was easier and cheaper to bash down the fake surface than bother with tufts of tended grass. Maybe they should have steamed open one of their brown envelopes and hired a couple of gardeners.

But never mind that, Mr Benoit (possibly and ironically a relation of Joan Benoit, winner of the first Olympic marathon in 1984 once running was deemed within female capability) has cut to the nub of the argument. Women clearly are playing sport, the dispute is over its wow factor.

Can they fill stadiums? Can they pull viewers? Well, they did during the London Games in 2012, when people who said beforehand “I hate sport” spent 18 hours a day on sofas in front of televisions, crying, screaming and feeding their children old Pringles and fluff they found behind the cushions. They will during Wimbledon. They do at Burghley. The Benoitists would say that’s because men are there too and, by the way, some of the horses are male.

All right then: England Women’s World Cup victory over Norway last Monday was watched by 2.3 million and persuaded the BBC to switch coverage of their quarter-final against Canada to BBC1. If it’s there, meaningful, marketed and magnificent, the audience will come.

The advantage of men’s sport over women’s as a spectacle is not in the muscle-twitch fibres, it’s in the tribal customs we’ve inherited. Men have played organised sport for over 200 years. They have the history, hype and hospitality boxes to prove it. Women – especially when it come to team sports – are, by comparison, novices at this lark, but the gains are exponential. Ultimately sport is drama. It is theatre with the ending unknown. Therein lies its compelling pull. The acting professional has been through all this before us. In Shakespeare’s day women were banned from the stage, now you’d have to say Meryl Streep is quite good.

That give us a clue. The “women’s-sports-aren’t-watchable” brigade are stuck somewhere circa the 16th  century when, aptly, fools were all the rage.

Mo should run a mile

Mo Farah should run a mile, something that should come quite naturally to him. He should run a mile or 6,000 of them from a coach currently tainted by drug allegations.

That he runs back into the arms of Alberto Salazar, alleged to have committed a number of drug-related offences, says either that Farah is commendably loyal or that deep down athletics views illegal substances much as they do at Glastonbury: pixie dust for the in crowd.

It is hard to dispute such a claim when Justin Gatlin, double-banned drug cheat, is poster boy for the blue-riband 100 metres and half his rivals have similar offences to be taken into account.

Athletics just seems content to front it out. Whether the public goes along with them is another matter. For some quaint thinkers, sport that isn’t straight isn’t sport.

I am me, not Rory’s ex

Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 5 tennis player, has such a class response to inquiries about splitting up with golfer Rory McIlroy year ago. “I think I’m known for being more than an  ex-girlfriend of somebody. I have my own career. I’ve been number one in the biggest women’s sport in the world. I’ve moved on. I’m such a better person now.”

‘Ladies’ day is over

Post-Women’s World Cup, could the FA Women’s Super League clubs think about dropping that twee throwback “Ladies” from their respective titles? Yes, it’s a nod to history, but as Martina Navratilova says: “Ladies is opinion. Women is fact.”

Michael Calvin will be back next weekend