Why the girls must escape the ghetto

WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION in sport is probably more visible at this time of year than at any other. The involvement may vary from a walk-on part at Ascot, where a woman's place is in the hat, to a full-blooded, snarling confrontation on centre stage at Wimbledon, but it is difficult to ignore them, even if one was inclined to.

Yet, here we stand at the very peak of the British sporting summer and most of us seem totally unaware that we have reached the last day of Women's Football Awareness Week. You would be forgiven for asking why women should be in the least aware of football at this searingly untopical point of the calendar, but the week in question is specifically to do with women's football and coincides with the Women's World Cup, which kicked off in the United States yesterday.

This is another event to which we are offering the cold shoulder of indifference. It might be different if any of our teams had qualified, but they didn't and thereupon our interest ceased. It is a fault for which we have been severely chided as typical of our insularity on the one hand and of our general disdain for women's sport on the other.

The old bandwaggoner himself, the Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, was to be found giving this theme a polish at the launch of Women's Football Awareness Week which has been organised by the Football Association to attract women and girls to try football for the first time. Banks broadened the subject to women's sport as a whole and said that issues of sexual equality needed urgently to be addressed or women's sport would never prosper.

Sport is excessively male- dominated in this country, he said, and this applied to everyone concerned, including those who report on it. We shall return later to this part of a speech that also took issue with the lack of promotion of women's football. He'd attended both the women's FA Cup final in May and the championship finale and they were fairly low-key events.

This was in sharp contrast to the interest shown in the United States for the World Cup. It is already assured of being the biggest women's sporting event in history. Over 77,000 watched the American team play Denmark in the inaugural game at the Giants Stadium yesterday and 98,000 are expected to attend the final at the Rose Bowl, Pasedena, on 10 July if the home team are involved.

These figures, plus the fact that more than seven million women play soccer in America, are very impressive but I question Banks' assessment that this popularity is due to more effective promotion and to US laws which dictate equal funding for men and women.

There is a marked difference in the attitudes of the two countries towards football. Over here, as he so rightly points out, it is male dominated and unsurprisingly so. Furthermore, our appetite is of long vintage and we like to watch football of the highest possible standard and tend to ignore football of a lower standard whether it is played by men or women. That's not sexist, it's footballist.

What is happening in the US is entirely different. As many would-be missionaries have learned to their cost over the past 30 years or so, Americans have developed a stubborn resistance to the wonders of football despite the presence of the greatest players of all time. Pele, George Best, Johan Cruyff... admittedly, many of those they imported to get the game off the ground were near the end of their careers but not even that assembly of the highest skills, nor the presence of the 1992 World Cup finals, could spread any lasting passion for the game among hardcore sports fans.

But football struck a spark among the women, especially the mothers who recognised a sporting activity they'd be happy for their sons to play. Football flourished among the young and, helped by the far more advanced attitudes to sports in their schools and colleges, has now captivated the women. The fact that they have been successful, and play with an attractive style, has further helped to intrigue the country.

But this is not a triumph for the US, this is a triumph for football and far from berating us for not doing enough to encourage women's football, both the Government and the FA should be examining the obvious steps they could take to hasten the development of women's football.

Unaided, the sport has already blossomed during the past decade. There were 80 adult female teams in 1990 but there are now 1,000 with 34,000 women playing regularly. That improvement could turn into a boom if the Government were to reverse the slump in the time and interest schools devote to sport but their latest decision to remove the compulsion for pupils over 14 to play a team sport will not help.

Girls should not only be encouraged to play games like football, they should be allowed to play alongside boys beyond the age of 11 which is the point at which the FA refuses to permit mixed football. It is an irony that the FA themselves should be hindering the development of girls' football, the standards of which would undoubtedly improve if they were allowed to play in the same teams as boys until they were much older.

Women have made substantial sporting improvement in recent years and have the potential to go much further but separate development is their greatest handicap. Sportspeople respond to competing at higher levels and, since the standard of men's sport is generally higher, that's where women must aspire to compete.

My view that women will one day play international football alongside men usually attracts derision but I'm convinced of it. The evolution will take generations but the quicker women are encouraged to escape from their sporting ghettos the quicker they will reach true equality.

TODAY WE see the climax of a tournament that has lavished upon us equal portions of great excitement and utter confusion. If the cricket World Cup final between Australia and Pakistan is half as thrilling as Thursday's semi-final we will forgive and forget its imperfections, but I fear we could be in for a messy end.

If the threatened rain arrives, the final will proceed into tomorrow and, if necessary, into Tuesday. If that happens, Pakistani supporters may buckle under the strain of a 72-hour wait to make their pitch invasion.

But an even worse scenario would occur if the match ends in a tie. Absurdly, the two teams would then share the title. After nearly six weeks in which the event has been dominated by the mathematical mayhem of the run-rate, the organisers have been unable to work out a simple formula for deciding which finalist had performed better in the event of them both scoring the same number of runs.

Most people have been arguing so vehemently about the semi-final mix- up between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald - I'm a Donald-blamer myself - they forget that the match was tied at that stage and that South Africa needed the extra run because Australia had a superior run-rate from previous matches. I would have thought that for a match of that importance what happened on the day should take precedence and if Klusener had batted out the over South Africa deserved to win by having reached the total with the loss of one fewer wicket.

But to abandon suddenly all those vulgar fractions in the final in favour of a non-decision if the scores are level is ludicrous. They'd be better off popping up to Wembley for a penalty shoot-out.

News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions