Women’s sport matters for an inestimable number of reasons. It matters because, as frequently demonstrated, this country’s girls and young women are increasingly leaving school under-active and without regular exercise in their routines. It matters because far too few strong and positive female role models are given the fuel of publicity that is afforded to the male populace as a whole (and that bit matters for men and for women, by the way. As a guy, I know my side of the gender divide would benefit massively from having a broader, more nuanced and – yes – stronger set of female role models in society). It matters on the sheer principles of equality which, you’d have hoped, would be obvious.
But above all, it matters because sport matters.
Leaving aside the benefits of actually playing for one moment, sport does funny things to a spectator. It can bring out the worst in people, but frequently it brings out the best too. Gallows humour and sport have walked hand-in-hand for time immemorial; the camaraderie of shared support is unmatched in almost any other walk of life; the pride, inspiration and downright joy that sport can make us feel provides the healthiest form of real-world escapism.
Yet somehow, when women’s sport gains a level of coverage, this crucial element seems to be forgotten. Perhaps it’s just a part of the necessary first steps in the ongoing battle for equality of media representation that requires women’s sport to be treated almost as an intellectual exercise, praising its technical aptitude, increasing skill and power and elite focus while somehow leaving out the passion that changes sport from so many shades of grey (a damn sight more than 50 of them) into a full colour palate. Perhaps, once the breadth of recognition enjoyed by women’s sport has reached something like an appropriate level, we can begin to allow its imperfections to earn recognition alongside its moments of pure magic.
Of course, the reality is all those inspirational, emotive hooks are already there. Was there anybody whose heart didn’t leap during last year’s Olympics when Jessica Ennis burned her way down the home straight of the 800m, or who didn’t well up during Ellie Simmonds’ post-race interviews in the Paralympics? How about when Katherine Grainger finally won her long-overdue gold medal? Or during Martine Wright’s astonishing VT spots in the broader 2012 coverage? Sport’s fairytales are never based solely on technical capacity alone; it’s only when we let emotion (and yes, that can include the negative ones too) in that we really see what sport does to us all; competitors, spectators, occasionally disinterested observers.
This is why women’s sport matters; for every reason that sport has ever mattered. To let us see how a healthy lifestyle can reap rewards above any other. To give us role models to aspire to. To show us that you don’t have to sell your soul and splash your personal life across the tabloids to matter. To give us something to get behind; to build community; for every benefit that shared experience has ever offered. More than anything else, it matters because it offers us all something different. The inspiration to get up and play, or the inspiration to get up and support.
It’s those parts, the parts that have nothing to do with skill and everything to do with emotion that really show us why it matters. We can’t all be Jessica Ennis, Rachel Yankey, Kate Walsh or Emily Scarratt. But we can all be the girls and guys yelling our lungs out for them, in the stands or in front of the TV.
That’s why this matters.
This article was originally written a few weeks ago, but we’d been waiting for the right moment to publish. In light of yesterday’s interesting media events (see Column Inches and this writer’s own Twitter feed if you really want to catch up), it seemed like the right time to send this out. Women’s sport matters.