The resignation of Helena Costa shows that in sport, as in politics, the bar is set twice as high for women

Women are scrutinised to the point of exhaustion and set up to fail

Share

What caused Helena Costa to quit her role as the highest-profile female manager of a men’s team in European football? According to the  36-year-old herself, a number of factors were to blame – including the management of the club.

But Claude Michy, president of the Clermont Foot side Costa managed for just one day, had his own reason to offer: “She goes with her secret. She’s a woman. They are capable of making us believe a certain number of things.”

Yes, that’s right. We women are as mysterious as the Sphinx, Mona Lisa and the contents of the Queen’s handbag rolled into one. Our decisions are not based on rational thought but on a sort of flibbertigibbetness that means we cannot focus on the job in hand for long periods of time, that we say one thing when we mean another, or that we say anything, basically... oh hang on, where was I?

Costa, in fact, gave quite a detailed explanation of her decision to leave before she had even watched her players kick a ball in training. She says that there was a “total lack of respect” and “amateurism” from the club, which included the sporting director wanting to sign players without her agreement and a failure to respond to her emails. Costa’s decision seems to be rather clever, in that case, because she could no doubt see which way the wind was blowing: an attempt to undermine her, go behind her back and, if the team performed poorly, blame her for the failure.

When Costa’s appointment was announced last month, she was hailed as a pioneer. But just as individual female achievements are held up as special cases and great steps for womankind, those same women are scrutinised to the point of exhaustion, set up to fail. The sound of a woman’s downfall is always louder than a man’s. In sport, like in politics – those two male realms – it is deafening.

Karren Brady, who knows a bit about being female in sport, and, after her appointment as the Prime Minister’s business adviser, now in politics, says that women have to be twice as good as their male rivals to be thought of only half as well. In politics, when a woman resigns,  we pore over every detail and question whether she was up to the job. So it goes in sport, particularly when women are “in charge” of men.

Amelie Mauresmo won Wimbledon yet when she was appointed as Andy Murray’s coach last month, there was a collective scratching of heads. Some asked how a woman could coach Murray when the men’s game is completely different to the one that she knows? Murray himself had to draw a line under the initial mutterings about Mauresmo’s fitness for the job, saying that only he would be to blame if he failed to win Wimbledon a second time.

Unlike the England football team, it is now possible to watch Murray playing tennis without a lurching sense of dread. The Scotsman plays like a champion. Yet if Murray doesn’t triumph this year, as is entirely possible, you can bet that there will be some commentators who jump straight to the conclusion that Mauresmo is to blame – not being quite up to the standards of Ivan Lendl, Murray’s previous coach.

Tennis, more than most sports, has a thing about fetishising women players. The Romanian Simona Halep reached her first Grand Slam final earlier this month, eventually defeated by Maria Sharapova (no stranger to having her body scrutinised) in the French Open. Halep’s achievement in getting to the final was helped, it was said, by the fact that she could play better after having a breast reduction from size 34DD to a 34C. Yet the operation was five years ago and her friend Laura Robson, who you would think is more expert in tennis than those who wrote about Halep’s breasts, says her “more streamlined shape”, as one tawdry newspaper put it, is totally irrelevant to how she’s playing.

Last year, John Inverdale claimed that he couldn’t help saying Marion Bartoli, hours before she won Wimbledon, was “never going to be a looker” – it just came out. But when things just slip out like that, it says a lot about the looks-obsessed culture that tennis has become. And when it comes to success on the field, the bar is still set so much higher for women. If only, we ask again and again, it could just be about the sport.

 

Nothing untoward about naked frolics

On a scorching hot day recently, my daughter and I found ourselves stuck in central London for two hours. As we hunted for somewhere to cool down, we came across one of those public fountain squares where jets of water erupt out of the ground.

My daughter, nearly four, ran straight into the water. She took all of her clothes off, bar her pants, and spent the next two hours screeching with glee at the fun of it. There is nothing that speaks of unbridled, carefree childhood as running, half naked, through a fountain.

Yet as I took photos of her, I noticed some people looking on disapprovingly – perhaps at her having hardly any clothes on, or perhaps because I was taking pictures. It is as if the sight of a naked child is A London-based blogger was devastated after Instagram deleted her account because she had shared a picture of her toddler which the site deemed “inappropriate”. A London-based blogger was devastated after Instagram deleted her account because she had shared a picture of her toddler which the site deemed “inappropriate”. offensive. This crazy hang-up has clearly infected the people at Instagram, who took down a mother’s picture of her toddler daughter showing off her naked tummy and “outie” belly button.

When Courtney Adamo, who writes a blog about her children, tried to post the picture of her daughter Marlow again, Instagram blocked her account. As Adamo says, “to entertain the idea that it is even remotely inappropriate is a disgusting thing in itself”.

READ MORE: Why Instagram won't #freethenipple

Let’s forgive this flight of fancy

Do as I say, not as I do. I feel a twinge of sympathy for Greenpeace’s international programme director, Pascal Husting, who, it emerged this week, has been commuting 250 miles by plane from Luxembourg to Amsterdam, despite his charity’s fierce campaigning on the damage done to the environment by aviation.

The executive director of Greenpeace UK defended his colleague, and the charity, by saying that the flights were taken so that Husting could see more of his young children. But now Greenpeace has announced that, in future, their employee will take the train instead.

In an age when every minute of every day is taken up trying to negotiate the work-life balance assault course, it is understandable that many of us turn into corner-cutting hypocrites.

Surely the answer for Husting is that he do more of his work on the long train-journeys – modern technology means we don’t have to be slaves to presenteeism. That way he can see his family as much as he is now – and still help to save the planet.

READ NEXT: Watching the Azzurri go out – in Italy – softened the blow of our early World Cup exit Suarez, I forgive you for the 'bite'. As long as you don't leave Liverpool FC
  PMQs: It would be a mistake for Miliband to ask about Coulson, so Coulson it was

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Team Leader

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Engineer - Linux, Windows, Cloud - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...

Recruitment Genius: Quality Inspector

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Buddy & Team Leader / Buddy

£11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To join a team working with a female in her ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would ramp up Britain's spending on science

Paul Nurse
A family remain in the open for the third night following the 7.8 quake in Nepal  

Nepal earthquake: Mobs of looters roam the camps and the smell of burning flesh fills the air, but still we survive

Bidushi Dhungel
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
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