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Women’s Sport, It’s Almost There

Kaitlin Dryburgh

It’s not often these days that you can say with a sense of optimism “we may not be all the way there but hey we’re a heck of a lot closer”. It’s a rare occurrence.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of flying out to Spain to watch my cousin Gemma Dryburgh and the rest of Team Europe retain the Solheim Cup. Now I’m not a huge golf fan (I think Gemma knows this), but I know my birdies from my bogeys and the best way to plan a route around the course to see her play. Yet I was blown away by the event. Admittedly my first Solheim Cup, but the crowds were bouncing, the music was blasting and the crowds were either screaming Ole Ole Ole Ole or U S A! U S A! People were dressed as the human version of the star-spangled banner or in head to toe blue and yellow star costumes (special shout out to the fans dressed as bananas in the heat). I had to wrestle with large crowds to see her tee off sometimes, while food sold out, and car parks were bursting. It was a great atmosphere for fans and players alike.

And it was all for women’s sport.

For once instead of always thinking about the improvements needed, it was fantastic to take in the achievements already made. It was almost semi heart-warming to be told the baguette I wanted was sold-out. Now I don’t advocate for sandwich insufficiency but if that means the crowds and demand is greater than expected, then I’ll happily choose an alternative, this time around.

Although numbers haven’t been released for this event, the 2021 Solheim Cup event had 130,000 people in attendance. It’s not alone, 2023 has been a brilliant year for women’s sport. Ground breaking viewing numbers, major sponsors, and an abundance of positive media coverage. There has without doubt been a step up in the way women’s sport is being perceived. Fans with previously would have disregarded women’s sport are quite happy to become an enthralled spectator just like at any men’s event.

However, although I want to acknowledge our achievements, I still can’t help mention that we’ve got some more work to do. From the grassroots up, we’ve still got to keep things moving along in the positive manner we’ve currently been experiencing.

To start with the Solheim Cup. Was it as big as the men’s Ryder cup? Currently no. But that’s okay (for now). Yet importantly events like these need the coverage and media attention to continue to grow. Accessibility enables more people to enjoy the sport and become a fan, this can ultimately make a difference to the grassroots of the sport. Although grassroots and professional sporting need separate avenues to flourish without doubt the professional aspect of the sport can inspire many.

The Solheim Cup struggled in this area. For those watching at home they were able to watch the event on some of the biggest TV channels but actually struggled to follow what was happening. The coverage was confusing, skipped many important moments, and at one point spent thirty seconds watching a dragonfly rather than on the golf. This actually left some TV outlets apologising to viewers. Like many of the problems we need to overcome in women’s sport, this was down to under-funding. The contracts awarded to cover an event like this have a significantly lower budget than that of the men’s and as result there isn’t the same coverage as a production company with more experience and a bigger budget. At a women’s golf event, sometimes a production company only brings 15 cameras with them, when an equivalent event for the men may have over 100 TV cameras. This is not applicable just to golf either.

Under-funding still plagues women’s sport. Although I’ll continue to re-iterate that we should still be happy with the progress, it just seems that every time we have a win, there’s always something lurking in the background.

Women’s cycling has had some breakthroughs. Like in many sports trying to provide equal prize money for both sexes has proven difficult and event organisers have in some cases been stubborn to resolve the issue. Yet those in charge of cycling’s Flander’s Classic events announced at the start of the year that they would be providing equal prize money for the 2023 season and onwards. Setting a great example for other sports to follow.

Not only that, the iconic Tour De France finally brought back its female counterpart race Tour De France Femme in 2022. A welcomed but overdue announcement. Yet many professional female cyclists have to support themselves or via friends and family in the beginning, as they are unpaid. Those at the very top of their game don’t have to experience this reality but those who are competing for smaller teams have to have a DIY approach because sponsorship is still heavily lacking. After a stage in the men’s Tour De France most riders will head straight to their shiny new air conditioned bus to be surrounded by a comprehensive team comprising of managers, nutritionists and physiotherapists etc. This would be a rare sight in the Tour De France Femme. Many have argued that with similar companies sponsoring both events they should have no option but to equally support both.

This year was great for women’s football. The Women’s World Cup was dubbed as the most successful of all time with viewership reaching a whopping two billion globally, an increase from 2019’s World Cup of 1.2 billion viewers. Perhaps just as important as viewership is national interest, headline news as well as chatter at the pub like the men’s events was a telling sign of its rise in popularity. Women’s football at the grassroots has been on the up in recent years. Sport England found that there are 100,000 more women and girls playing football than five years ago.

However, what immediately followed the Women’s World Cup final brought the high of Spain winning crashing right back down. The head of the Spanish Football Federation decided he would plant a kiss on Spanish football player Jenni Hermoso. One that he says was consensual, she disagrees. What should have been a fantastic moment for Spain became a whirlwind of international coverage that helped to dredge up some of the most misogynistic views around. At times the conversation wasn’t even debating the act, but instead the conversations drifted on to topics that were wholly sexist in nature.

However, even prior to that, the FIFA president discussed the success of the Women’s World Cup and its continued popularity. He stated, “women who pick the right fights can convince us men what we have to do”. Perhaps nice on the surface, but the prospect of men doing nothing until they are significantly persuaded by women that they need to change is disheartening. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, yet it would be helpful if equality wasn’t always viewed as a tug of war but something that could be gladly given.

Even though equality in sport is yet to be reached, It’s without doubt fantastic to see women’s sport grow. Long may it continue.

1 thought on “Women’s Sport, It’s Almost There”

  1. Real equality in sport will only be achieved when sales generated by male and female tournaments in any given sport equalise. Until then, market forces will ensure that players will earn more in tournaments that generate more. It is a little bit like the fact that female models earn more on average than male models in the UK – a gender pay gap caused by the fact the female fashion is a larger market than male fashion.

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