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

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

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Rohingya migrants in a boat adrift in the Andaman Sea last week  

Burma will regret shutting its eyes to the fate of the Rohingya boat people

Peter Popham
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor