In sport, women make the running

Old guard of chauvinists warn of take-over by 'female mafia' of professional administrators
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The Independent Online

Once upon a time sport was run by the old boys' network. Not any more. Women have shattered the glass ceiling that still holds them down in other industries and are taking charge.

An informal survey by The Independent on Sunday reveals that the men in blazers are being supplanted by a new breed of professional sports administrator who happen to be women.

In Athens, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is the first woman successfully to bid for and run an Olympic Games, while London's Olympic hopes for 2012 rest on an American businesswoman, Barbara Cassani.

At the CCPR (formerly the Central Council of Physical Recreation), the partially government-funded umbrella body for more than 250 sports organisations, it is hard to find a man working among the 30-strong staff, led by Professor Margaret Talbot, the chief executive.

Women are on top in other key sporting posts too.

The Princess Royal is president of the British Olympic Association and one of three British members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), while Giselle Davies, daughter of Barry Davies, a BBC commentator, is the director of communications at the IOC.

The most influential woman in British sport is 54-year-old Sue Campbell, the new chair of the Government's principal sports quango, UK Sport. She is also a senior adviser to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where Tessa Jowell is the Secretary of State.

Ms Campbell also runs the largely female-staffed Youth Sports Trust, which this week hosts Britain's biggest conference on school sport.

One of her first moves when taking over UK Sport was to axe its chief executive, Richard Callicott, regarded as among Britain's most experienced and able sports leaders. Liz Nicholl, a colleague of Ms Campbell's since their netballing days, is now acting chief executive.

Previously Mrs Nicholl's responsibilities at UK Sport included being in charge of lottery funds, a role also undertaken at Sport England by Brigid Simmonds, who heads a leading sport and leisure business consultancy. So the most influential fingers on British sport's cash register are female, too.

Tessa Sanderson, the former Olympic javelin champion and vice-chairman of Sport England, said: "There has been a real breakthrough in the past 10 years with far more women involved in running sport than I thought possible. In some areas women are holding sport together."

One of Britain's best hopes for an Olympic medal in Athens, Georgina Harland, currently the world's number one modern pentathlete, agrees. She said the growing number of women bosses reflected the "progressive nature" of sport. "There is a new thinking coming to the fore and much of it is generated by women," she said.

But not everyone is happy. The promotion of women to powerful posts has prompted rumblings of discontent from an old guard of chauvinists used to things being run in a traditional, all-male, way.

One senior administrator, who declined to be identified, even suggested to The Independent on Sunday that sport is in danger of being taken over by a "feminist mafia".

"It is all very worrying," he said. "No one objects to capable women getting responsible jobs but one hopes they are not simply surrounding themselves with other women to the exclusion of men who might be similarly qualified."

But Howard Wells, the chairman of the CCPR, insisted: "The women are there on merit. In fact, if you look at the way women have outstripped men academically in recent years it is hardly surprising they should be getting key positions, even in sport."

There are now "some fantastic women" at the top in sport, said the Women's Sports Foundation, "but not enough considering the contribution women make to sport these days". They have come a long way since Professor Talbot taught PE at a Catholic college, where a priest told her women could not play cricket.

David Sparkes, chief executive of British Swimming, said: "Perhaps this is a signal to us men that we may have been getting it wrong."

Nowhere is the influence of women in sport more apparent than in the media. Female sportscasters now proliferate on television: ITV's Gabby Logan is set to take over from Des Lynam as leading sports presenter; ITN has Felicity Barr and Channel 4 Sue Turton as their respective sports correspondents.

The BBC's sports team includes Sue Barker, who hosted the London Olympic bid launch; Mary Rhodes, regular sports presenter on BBC Breakfast; and even a female rugby reporter, Jill Douglas. Barbara Slater is BBC's Head of General Sport.

Without exception, Sky Sports' female presenters ­ among them football reporters Helen Chamberlain and Clare Tomlinson, and sports news presenters Kelly Dalglish (daughter of footballer Kenny) and Isha Sesay ­ are young and telegenic.

However, spokesman Chris Haynes says: "We have never made a big deal about our women sports presenters. This is not about having a pretty face. Our philosophy is if they don't know their stuff, they couldn't do the job."

Barbara Cassani, 43

Chair of London 2012 Olympic bid. Born in Boston, USA. Studied at Princeton University, New Jersey. Made name as founder of low-cost airline Go at BA, leading a £110m management buy-out. Moved to London in 1985 and is married to British businessman and veteran swimmer Guy Davis.

Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, 48

President of Athens 2004. First woman to successfully bid for and organise an Olympic Games. Harvard-educated lawyer and former MP. Married to a Greek steel and shipping magnate.

Sue Campbell, 54

Chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust, chair of UK Sport and government adviser on school sport. Former England netball international and basketball team manager. Chief executive of the National Coaching Foundation, 1985-1995. Unmarried.

Liz Nicholl, 51

Director of performance services and acting chief executive at UK Sport, with responsibility for Lottery funding programme. Former netball international and chief executive of England Netball. Married.

Tessa Jowell, 54

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport since 2001. Former childcare officer and assistant director of Mind. MP for Dulwich since 1992. Instrumental in persuading Tony Blair to back the London Olympic bid. Married.

Professor Margaret Talbot, 57

Chief executive of the CCPR, the umbrella body for British sports organisations. Former PE teacher and lecturer, and Head of PE and Sports Science at Leeds University. Married.