England's cricketers are in the final of the World Cup and by the time you read this they may well have already held the trophy aloft. No, this isn't wishful thinking. For while Britain's male cricketers are struggling at the crease, the women were playing for the sport's greatest prize early this morning.
England contested the final of the Women's Cricket World Cup in Sydney, Australia. The bookies said yesterday that it was too close to say which side was the more likely to come out on top in a rematch of the 1993 final, in which England were victorious.
Experts agreed, however, that it was likely to prove an entertaining final. England have lost only one of their last 18 games – to Australia during this tournament – and retained the Ashes last year. They also boast the tournament's top bowler in 22-year-old Laura Marsh. New Zealand are considered a difficult team to beat, however, and have also dropped only one game on the way to the final.
It is hard to escape the notion that, were the men in the final, there would be a great deal more hoopla and cricketing profiles on the back page of every newspaper. Women's team sports tend to pass under the radar, even when England become world-beaters.
The sports writer Catherine Etoe, co-author of Three Lions on Her Shirt, a history of England's women's football teams, said women suffered from "tokenist" media coverage.
"If it was given a chance to be popular, then it might stand a chance to grow," she said. "Historically, people think women's football isn't very good, but it has changed. The elite players are on strict diets and look and play like athletes.
"But people judge them on what men do and women in sport are often presented in magazines in their bikinis and it's about how sexy they are. They are not seen as women in sport. England have won the cricket World Cup before and nothing's changed."
Alan Pascoe, chairman of the sports marketing agency Fast Track, also pointed at the male-dominated media.
"There is evolution in some sports where individuals can shine, like in athletics and in swimming where people can make their mark," he said. "But the media should really be answering the question; until they get the coverage they're not going to get the sponsorship and earn the money. That's all there is to it. In New Zealand, women's netball players get prime-time coverage, so they earn the money."
Andrew Augustus, director of Proglobal sports agency which looks after professional footballers, said that sport was the "last bastion of sexism in the UK".
"If you look at sport as a whole, the physical output of women is often comparable to that of men," he said. "But commercial factors have an impact too, and it is a case of whether you are going to get as many bums on seats at a women's football or cricket as you would for men. There is an argument to say that if the games were properly advertised and promoted, that might be the case. The 2008 women's FA Cup final, played in Denmark, attracted 35,000 spectators, which is high in anyone's book.
"That said, if you directly compare top-level men's football with top-level women's football, there is a big difference in the pace and physical nature of the game. Personally, I find top-level women's football less exciting."
The attitude of the team is also in contrast to the men. Speaking shortly after reaching the final, captain Charlotte Edwards said: "I don't believe we've played our best cricket yet. We've been really tough on the girls. Every time we think we're not playing as well as we should, they come back with a really good performance. I'm sure we can deliver on the big stage on Sunday; we've had a magnificent 18 months of cricket and it would be a great way to top it off on Sunday."
England's two football captains
Women: Kelly Smith
Team: Boston Breakers
Men: John Terry
England's two cricket captains
Women: Charlotte Edwards
Men: Andrew Strauss MBE
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