Change the Game: Women's sport 'at a crescendo' this summer

Ama Agbeze, Anne Keothavong, Danielle Carter chat at Wimbledon
Ama Agbeze, Anne Keothavong and Danielle Carter chat at Wimbledon

There is plenty more to come in a glorious summer of women's sport - and three top-class sportswomen have been discussing it in depth.

The Fifa Women's World Cup has just finished - having attracted record-breaking television audiences - Wimbledon is entering its second week, and the Netball World Cup begins on Friday.

Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong, Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning netball captain Ama Agbeze and Arsenal footballer Danielle Carter - a Women's Super League winner - spent a morning at Wimbledon discussing the current profile of women's sport, their sporting idols and where they see their sports in five years' time.

Question: What do you think about the level of coverage of women's sport this summer?

Agbeze: We are at a crescendo and reaching a climax with women's sport this summer but it won't be the end. We need it to keep going, need to keep pushing it.

Growing up, it was all male sport that I saw. I wanted to be an F1 driver but all I saw were male drivers, so I knew I had to do something else. If you can't see it, you can't achieve it.

But what's great about women's sport at the moment is that we are winning things, so promotion and growth overlap.

Carter: It's a great coincidence that there are such world-class tournaments happening at the same time. The Fifa Women's World Cup is in your face, on TV, papers and radio. I even drank a sports drink the other day and it had England captain Steph Houghton's face on it! It's what's been needed. But we need to keep the momentum going.

Keothavong: I can't remember a time when women's sport has had this level of coverage. The Fed Cup win in April captured a lot of people's attention, and hopefully inspired a lot of people as we showed how capable female athletes are.

Question: What can sports do to support players more, for example around maternity policies?

Agbeze: We're just in the starting block. There should be equality but there's a lot to do, like there is outside sport in the work place.

We use our bodies to perform but until we start talking about issues like this, nothing will change. Like Serena Williams and the protected rankings she campaigned for.

Keothavong: Tennis is further ahead. The rules have been changed to help support players to have a family and come back into the sport. Protected rankings have increased from six months to two years so you can recover properly.

I've got a three-and-a-half-year-old and a 20-month-old and any mum will tell you that trying to sort childcare out is a nightmare. I have had to take my baby to meetings but I also have a very supportive family to enable me to do the job I do.

Wimbledon has the best creche on the tour. Historically, creches seemed to have been the norm on the men's tour but with more female players having children, there are more opening on the women's tour.

But it's not just players; female performance coaches find a lot of barriers because of the travel involved and unsociable hours. We have lost a lot of talented women this way.

Carter: It's not really talked about in football because there have been very few who have had children while playing. I couldn't even tell you if it is mentioned in my contract.

Question: Who were your sporting idols growing up?

Carter: I looked up to Rachel Yankey and was lucky to play a few games with her at Arsenal. And Serena Williams, as I admire her not only as a player but for all the battles she's had off the court.

Denise Lewis
Denise Lewis won heptathlon gold at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney

Keothavong: Monica Seles, as I loved her fighting spirit and the intensity in which she played the game.

I am also a big admirer of Jade Jones. I used to do taekwondo as a kid in Hackney as my parents were keen for me to learn self defence. I made it to a red belt but I am in awe of Jade's high kicks!

Agbeze: Growing up, I watched a lot of sport. My dad loved boxing so I would watch a lot of old Muhammad Ali videos, also a lot of F1.

And I loved the Olympics and Denise Lewis. I grew up in Birmingham and was involved in athletics until I was a teenager and I used to be so excited if I saw Denise at training.

I was selected for an under-17s netball tournament in New Zealand and it clashed with the English Schools [Athletics] Championships. I chose netball because of the trip to New Zealand!

I then got a netball scholarship to Bath University and I love netball as it's a team game where there isn't focus on one player.

Did you believe you could make a living out of your sport?

Carter: I played football at primary school with the boys and I was spotted by Leyton Orient, who had a girls team. My mum was very supportive; she used to drive me to training and matches and kept me going.

I never thought I would be able to make a career out of being a footballer; I just thought it would be a hobby. I have seen the transition from semi to full professional football in such a short space of time in the women's game and I'm fortunate enough that my age group are reaping the benefits of those who played before.

Although we're professional, we are not set up financially for the rest of our lives.

My mum pushed me academically and I did a degree in physiotherapy. I am a qualified physiotherapist and I was the under-17s physio at Arsenal before I went fully professional as a player.

I am already thinking beyond my playing career. I am studying for a Masters CEO of a Sports Organisation as I am interested in the governance side of sport.

Agbeze: When people ask me what I do and I say I'm a netball player, they then ask what else I do! I do get funded to be a full-time netball player.

Question: Where do you want to see your sport in five years' time?

Carter: I don't think women footballers will ever earn the crazy money we see in the men's game.

But there is growing interest and more sponsorship opportunities in the women's game and we are changing perceptions. The sport is coming on leaps and bounds, getting bigger and bigger and developing.

I don't think it will ever be as big as men's football but we are on an upward trajectory.

Keothavong: Tennis has come a long way and even though there is equal prize money in the Grand Slams, the ATP and WTA tours are not comparable.

The old argument is the duration of matches - men playing five sets, women playing three - but the women do just as much training as the men. People should just respect these athletes for the quality they bring on to the court and admire and appreciate what they can do.

I also think we need to open up the sport to as many people as possible, to inspire people to be out there and active. Tennis players - male and female - are great role models.

And we need male advocates. More David Beckhams and Andy Murrays to support us!

Agbeze: Not many men play netball and I think they should play. We can't harp on about equality and then not make netball accessible to men. It will take time for male netball to grow but we should support it.

I don't see netballers being paid megabucks in the next five years but what I would like to see is clubs being more stable, the league more sustainable, and more sponsors.

The more visible the game is, it will encourage participation and we know how important a healthy society is.

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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