No, I didn't injure my ankle falling off high heels

Why, in the 21st century, is it seen as so unlikely as to be laughable that a woman would hurt her ankle playing sport?


The cab driver couldn't have been friendlier when I made my ungainly one-footed entry into the back of his car.

"Oh dear", he said, holding the door and looking down at my oversized, strapped up foot. "How did you do that then? Playing football?"

His brief laugh suggested he assumed I'd done it tottering over in a pair of heels or sprinting to the nearest handbag sale. But as it happens, the answer to the joke was yes. And, as it happens, he was the fifth man to make it in the three weeks since I tore my ankle ligaments having a kick about in the park.

Of course, the jokes were only meant in the spirit of good-humoured conversation and I didn't take offence. But they did raise a more serious question: why, in the 21st century, is it seen as so unlikely as to be laughable that a woman would hurt her ankle playing sport?

Last week The Independent on Sunday announced it was taking a stand on women's sport. For too long female athletes have been neglected in the media, with Britain's international successes going ignored and unreported when the competitors are missing a Y chromosome.

We want to report on this properly because a lot is at stake. Only one in five women (and one in 10 girls) does enough exercise to stay fit and healthy. For every newspaper or broadcaster that presents an all-male cast of sporting stars, there is another missed opportunity for a girl to be inspired to grab a bike, dive in a pool or pull on a pair of trainers.

I hated school PE, uninspired by netball and other genteel sports which seemed to be played in silly skirts. I don't remember seeing much women's sport on television either, and it wasn't until I was 18 and left in charge of football lessons for 60 boys in Malawi that I discovered one I loved.

A couple of years later, when I was an obsessive left-winger for my university football team, I bumped into an old PE teacher. She was surprised at my new-found sporting enthusiasm, but said it proved that anyone could find a sport they enjoyed, if they looked hard enough for it. Somewhat put off by her mocking tone, I never got round to asking her why, if that was the case, she hadn't put more effort into helping pupils in their search.

Half of all girls say they are put off sport and exercise by PE lessons, a figure which could be improved by introducing greater variety and enthusiasm into teaching the subject, particularly among non-specialists. This means not just encouraging the sporty pupils – but the seemingly uninterested ones, too. More than a third of girls say their PE teacher only pays attention to the sporty kids, a problem likely to exacerbate obesity and inactivity among women in later life.

But it is unfair to lay too much blame for this gender gap at the feet of overworked teachers, when so few of Britain's female athletes are given the courtesy of write-ups that could help them be role models for many. That is why this paper has pledged to cover the best of women's – and men's – sport.

Who knows, maybe the guys of the next generation will assume a woman with a knackered ankle must have done it making a heroic sliding tackle.

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