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Women still on top

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Eleanor Oldroyd Eleanor Oldroyd | 15:02 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009

Are there any Radio 5 live veterans out there who remember a little programme from the mid 1990's called "Women on Top"? When the younger producers of 5 live Sport heard that such a show had once existed, they were gobsmacked that we'd got away with such a daring double entendre in the title - and back in the 'olden days', too.

It was part of the original 5 live schedule back in 1994, and it was a weekly look at the world of women's sport. Eventually it bit the dust in a move to get rid of so called "niche programming" on the network. "Out This Week", a gay and lesbian interest show, and "Sports America" (go on, have a guess...) went the same way - the argument was that the subjects we covered should make the airwaves on editorial merit, rather than be ghetto-ised in their own little slots.

So Thursday night's 5 live Sport was a bit of a return to the ghetto.

Karen Carney scores for England
England's loss was their first European final for 25 years

We'd convened a panel of highly respected female pundits for a two-hour discussion, which we called "Ladies First". Journalists Hazel Irvine and Sue Mott, Millwall FC director Heather Rabatts, and Olympic badminton silver medallist Gail Emms joined me to discuss everything from inter-gender conditions and football hooliganism to sports bra cup sizes.

It was certainly unlike any other regular edition of 5 live Sport - which is not to say we weren't discussing some of the same issues we'd cover on a regular weeknight. Any attempt I made to head down a "Heat" magazine-style debate on Wags at the World Cup was quickly diverted to a much more considered and informed conversation about managing expectations of success in South Africa next summer.

But where else would you have heard Gail - who's 16 weeks pregnant, and nervous of the changes taking place in a body over which, as an elite athlete, she's always had control - getting advice and reassurance from the USA's World Cup winning football star Brandi Chastain, and golfer Catriona Matthew, who won the Women's British Open just 11 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter?

The truth is that when women succeed in sport, whether it's as a performer or behind the scenes, they're often doing it while juggling the many other distractions of a so-called normal life - relationships, kids and so on. Even when, like Catriona, they've got a fantastically supportive husband who keeps the childcare going and even caddies for her, too.

And many of those stories are never told - largely because the women involved often don't think they're doing anything special.

I've been a judge for 14 years now on the Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards. They don't just celebrate the achievements of our brilliant elite stars - like last year's winner Nicole Cooke, who beat off amazing competition from fellow Olympic champions Becky Adlington, Rebecca Romero, Christine Ohuruogu and Victoria Pendleton - not to mention the Three Blondes in a Boat.

Victoria Pendelton
World and Olympic Champion Victoria Pendelton

But we also get to tell the stories of those behind the scenes - the PE teachers, coaches, administrators and volunteers who devote huge energy and love to their own sports clubs, and are often unsung in their own communities, let alone on a wider stage.

If that rings a bell for you, then you've still got time to nominate your favourite local heroine.

There will be some out there who'll argue that we don't need special awards for women, or indeed special programmes for women's sport, and I partly agree with that.

When you're as good as Jessica Ennis, Paula Radcliffe or Tanni Grey-Thompson, you can pretty much guarantee you're going to get the recognition you deserve. Even though they lost to Germany (as dominant in women's football as Tiger Woods or Roger Federer are in their sports), Hope Powell's England team got prime tea-time BBC TV coverage and double-page spreads in the broadsheet newspapers for reaching the final of Euro 2009. And after their all-conquering year, England's women's cricket team have been rightly celebrated - and I daresay that at least a few people now might correctly identify Charlotte Edwards as captain, and that probably hasn't happened since the days of Rachael Heyhoe-Flint.

Success should bring acclaim and glory - or at least the right to expect some non-patronising coverage in the media. But it doesn't always. In the meantime, I'm delighted to be waving the flag, and, even if it's only once every couple of months, putting Ladies First.


  • Comment number 1.

    I still can't believe that anyone at a PUBLIC BROADCASTER could ever dismiss half of our population as a niche.

    The BBC should have been leading the way in promoting womens sports, as I've said, you are a public broadcaster after all.

    How much would it have cost to show the womens Euros on tv?
    Probably a lot less than we've paid for the rights to Championship football.

    If the BBC continues in its blatantly sexist attitude to sports; just look at how little coverage there is here on the website; I'll simply not pay my licence fee and when taken to court, I'll find it easy to prove the organisation is sexist and therefore show that subsidy shouldn't compulsary.

  • Comment number 2.

    I read many of the responses on a different blog that specifically dealt with the progress made by the women's football team. Some (quite a few) appeared to be out of the dark ages. "Football is a man's game" "My local pub team could have beat them" that sort of thing. I agree with the first poster, the BBC should have given the Women's Euro' Championship more coverage. Reaching a major final is no mean achievement, gender should not be an issue. Well done to Hope and her 'girls' you did well. Fabio Capello is being lauded as the new saviour for merely *qualifying.*

  • Comment number 3.

    While I agree that the Womens team did very well to reach the final, I think that one point many people miss with regard to why the Women's game recieves much less attention than the mens is the much lower standard of the football played.

    It stands to reason that as the game is played by far far fewer people than play the mens game, with a far lower level of professionalism or money for training, recruitment and improving the talent of the players, that the level of football displayed in these matches would probably be akin to that found in a Conference or, at a push, League 2 football match.

    The reason these matches are shown less frequently is that, as with Conference or League 2 matches, the standard of Football is a lot lower than that in the Premier League, Championship, Champions League or male International Football, and so would not attract much of an audience on a mainstream television channel.

    While the BBC is a public service broadcaster, surely it would be slightly patronising of them to show a game of poor quality football merely because it is women playing?


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