Leading article: Let's seize the chance to tackle sexism in sport

Britain has some world class female athletes, but men get more support and more glory

Share
Related Topics

Lizzie Armitstead deserves another medal. Flushed with the triumph of winning silver in Sunday's 87-mile road race, the champion cyclist took the opportunity to take a public stand against the sexism in sport. The pressures, she said, are "disheartening". Disheartening, indeed; and wholly indefensible.

Ms Armitstead's criticisms are not the only intrusion of ugly gender prejudice into the all-inclusive fantasy of the London Olympics. A top (female) canoeist will be at the High Court on Thursday, challenging the absence of women's canoeing from the Games, despite five men's events. Eyebrows have also been raised over travel arrangements which have seen mediocre male teams (specifically Japanese footballers and Australian basketball players) stretching their legs in business class while their world-beating female counterparts make do with coach.

There is, of course, no possible justification for such discrimination. But perhaps it should not be so surprising. After all, women's sports consistently command just a fraction of the attention, the sponsorship, or the glory of their male equivalents. And Ms Armitstead is right: Britain is an egregious offender. We have some truly top-class female athletes: world champion swimmers, triathletes and cyclists, and an rugby team that has won the Six Nations title for the past seven years running. But it is less successful men who hog the money and the acclaim. While female champions go unrecognised, Andy Murray, say – who, for all his progress, has never won a Grand Slam – is a national hero (and a sponsor's dream).

The statistics are startling. When it comes to sponsorship, the top women's sports secure only a fraction of 1 per cent of the total market. Men's sports, on the other hand, rake in more than 60 per cent (with the balance going to mixed sports). The media, alas, must share the blame. Last year's Women's World Cup final might have been the most tweeted event in history. Polling by the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation might indicate significant public appetite for following women's sport. But a bare 1 per cent of newspaper sports coverage, and even less broadcast time, is allocated to it.

More troubling still is the damaging attitude that so often prevails in those rare moments when female sports stars do grab a share of the limelight. Gail Emms, the now-retired Olympic silver badminton player, recently spoke out about the pressure from sponsors to "wear fake tan and a tight kit". And the barrage of salacious comments that has accompanied the (women's) beach volleyball at this year's Games – not least from the Mayor of London – is a discouraging reminder of the extent to which women's sports struggle to be accepted on their own terms.

In the face of such obstacles, is it any wonder that the number of girls playing sport is so woefully low? Only around one in 10 female 14-year-olds take the exercise they should, while nearly half believe that playing sport is unfeminine. Such warped views are, of themselves, deeply concerning. That elite women's sports are routinely either ignored or reduced to titillation only exacerbates the problem.

London 2012 has been billed as the most inclusive Games ever. Great fanfare has, not unjustifiably, been given to the fact that women are competing in all 205 teams for the first time ever. Team GB is also a model of equality, with women not only making up half the membership but expected to win more medals than their male colleagues.

There is progress, then. But a balance of numbers alone is not enough. The best possible legacy of London 2012, well worth the £9bn price tag, would be real change in the attitude to women in sport. Lizzie Armitstead, and those who follow her example, deserve nothing less.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron has reiterated his pre-election promise to radically improve the NHS  

How can we save the NHS? Rediscover the stiff upper lip

Jeremy Laurance
 

Thanks to Harriet Harman, Labour is holding its own against the Tory legislative assault

Isabel Hardman
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
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada