To laugh or cry? That was the dilemma presented to us by poor, old Steve Davis, who snookered himself behind the question of women and sport with his inane prattle. Something to do with the hard-wiring of the species, he argued, prevents women from potting balls with the same lethal force as men. They are neither single minded nor obsessive enough, he claimed in his Crucible excursus.
This kind of nonsense pops up whenever pundits stray from their specialist subject. By all means deconstruct the shot Steve, but leave brain function to the neuroscientists. Even they struggle to evaluate the weight of what nature gives us against the power of the environment to shape outcomes. Though masculine and feminine characteristics in the make-up of the brain appear to be identifiable, their significance is not so easy to quantify.
Neither is snooker the most obvious territory to roll out this kind of sporting prejudice against women. The "women are not the equal of men" stuff is indubitable in matters of physical endeavour. In areas like running, throwing, lifting, jumping, shoving, etc, women are simply not equipped with the corporeal wherewithal to compete against men. But snooker, a discipline that relies on the ability to deliver a cue to a ball in a straight line? What does that have to do with musculature? Greater strength does not confer any advantage on the baize since technique, not power, is the differentiator.
If Davis really wants to understand why women do not excel in the sport he need only look at the grass roots experience, the environment in which the game is played. Where is the incentive for any girl or young woman to walk into a windowless 'palazzo' tucked away on some trading estate or other? The sign above the door hardly says welcome to our world. The message spells out that new members are invited but the culture says women are not.
The appeal to science to explain the inability of women to compete at the highest level of the sport might start not with faux neuroscience but numbers. There are simply not enough of them taking part at the base of the pyramid. Women have not been encouraged to smash the cultural bar imposed by history. Snooker is simply invisible to them.
The only woman seen on television at the Crucible this past fortnight, Michaela Tabb, is employed to replace the balls, not pot them. Worse still, her association with snooker is sexualised in the form of posed pictures projecting her cleavage not female engagement. The appeal is once again to men not women.
Motorsport is beset by the same difficulty. Women appear partially clothed on the grid, eroticised adjuncts marking grid positions instead of occupying them. A physical argument is often forwarded to explain the exclusion of women from Formula One, g-forces experienced through corners being too great for women to bear and such-like prate. If that were the case Danica Patrick would not have been able to establish a career in Indycar racing and subsequently Nascar in the United States.
Patrick stands no more that 5ft 2ins and is barely seven and a half stones wet through. If she can handle a car pulling 4g-plus through a high speed turn, any woman can. That more do not is a result of the same cultural disincentive that keeps them out of snooker halls. There are too few female role models encouraging involvement.
Rather than perpetuate potty myths, Davis would better serve the sport he loves by encouraging women to take part. In so doing he might get more men through the door, too. Clubs are disappearing as participation figures fall. In golf, where the last knockings of prejudice are about to fall as men-only clubs reconsider their positions regarding female membership, the big idea is to make clubs not only female friendly but family sensitive too. Bring the wife and kids, let's grow the game together in a way that reflects how we organise and manage our lives.
As things stand why would women want to imbibe the snooker hall nimbus created by senescent blokes replete with pot bellies and balding pates? Someone with a brain in the vanguard of the sport ought to switch on the lights. What better way to engage kids in simple arithmetic and geometry than letting them lose on mini tables while the adults attack Pythagorean problems at the big table next door?
There is about potting balls a compulsion that appeals to all human kind. It is weirdly seductive. Hours disappear at a rate that suggests the suspension of time and it does not favour the left or right side of the brain. A brain of any kind will do. The only requirement is to engage it. What an irony that atop the trophy contested by Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby today sits the figurine of a woman. Ha, smirks womankind.