Girls can play any sport and look ‘radiant and gorgeous’ - but it shouldn't be a requirement for taking part

If everyone calmed down a little perhaps they could see Helen Grant's point

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The Independent Online

This weekend I found myself in the awkward position of agreeing with Louise Mensch, one of the characters in British life whose voice Twitter has amplified, despite her living in New York. Ms Mensch is a provocateur, not in the desperate fashion of a Katie Hopkins, but usually to prove a political point. She often defends the apparently indefensible and - more appealingly - is not afraid to attack sacred cows.

This past weekend she was busy defending Helen Grant, Conservative minister for sport, equalities and tourism. Grant had been pilloried, harangued and verbally assaulted in both traditional and social media for suggesting that girls might consider cheerleading, gymnastics, roller skating and ballet as alternatives to more traditional girls sports. So far, so “meh!” But then she ventured to suggest that girls can look “radiant and gorgeous” when participating in said activities, and the world jumped down her throat and ignored the wider context of what she said.

Regular readers will know I spend part of most weekends on rain-sodden, windswept touchlines watching my daughters participate in those more traditional sports, notably lacrosse and netball, but sometimes football, cricket, athletics - you name it. That's because they love sport. They go to school at 7.30 most mornings to train, stay late for more and when they are not playing, one has a Fulham FC season ticket. Last week they were snowboarding.

They often look muddy, sweaty, bruised and exhausted, and of course are gorgeous and radiant to me in so doing. Feminine? Depends on your definition. If your definition includes all the adjectives in the sentence preceding this, then yes, feminine too. What they and their friends really do is radiate vitality and health.

That's what sport does for males and females alike. And that's where Ms Grant was really trying to get to. If everyone calmed down a little they could see that.

She was acknowledging that many of the sports my daughters love are not for all girls. We know that too. Their school is not “sporty”. Some of their best friends think they are crazy. Ms Grant was addressing the 1.8 million-wide disparity between the number of men and women regularly engaged in sport. She was suggesting that perhaps schools and parents need to get more creative and be more open-minded about exercise options. You could apply this to boys too.

I'd love to see most of her critics try cheerleading - not the sort you see shaking tushes and pom poms at American sports, but competitive cheerleading: usually a mixed-gender affair combining strength, stamina, gymnastics and grace. Our own Emily Jupp is an aficionado. Go to to read her entertaining take on it, although she is less forgiving of Ms Grant remarks.

Self-evidently I don't agree with girls having to look radiant, gorgeous or feminine playing sport in the way most people understand those terms. What I agree with even less is our new national sport: high- and long-jumping down people's throats if they dare to make anything other than the blandest of statements, or dare speak a politically incorrect word out of line.