Guest Blog: Mike Fatkin gets angry about women's sport
Earlier this week I found myself becoming increasingly angry on the subject of women’s sport. Strange thing to say, a bloke having previously spent 23 years in a male professional sports environment, but the lack of any women on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist was the catalyst. And it really riled me.
It’s not so much the names on the list that annoyed me. It’s a strong one, including Wales’s own Dai Greene. But the process – seemingly random newspapers and magazines across the UK picking their ten – was so scattergun. Yes, that process has been used for five years, and produced a female winner in Zara Phillips in 2006, but that’s not the point. You may as well ask a load of people in different pubs. Indeed the presence of Zoo and Nuts on that list meant they probably were. Where were the women journalists? Do they get a say? And how come the Manchester Evening News can nominate three foreigners (Toure, Berbatov and Vieira) and seven Lancastrians and everyone thinks it’s funny? If it is, then the award deserves joke status. Come on, BBC. High time for a review.
What about Keri-Anne Payne? Or Chrissie Wellington? Kath Grainger? Becky Adlington? And how on earth did the Western Mail, of all newspapers, opt for Alistair Brownlee (Triathlon World Champion, Male) ahead of Helen Jenkins (Triathlon World Champion, Female)? Toss of a coin? My own nomination would have been for Sarah Stevenson: she lost both parents to cancer this year yet still, somehow, found the courage and reserves to become world taekwondo champion. More deserving than many.
But then again, this is a personality contest based on the major sports, isn’t it? There are viewers to pander to. There is also footage to show. Hence Andy Murray’s inclusion probably.
And therein lies the issue that makes me the angriest. Why are the media so reluctant to move away from their male sport ‘staples’? The Media Wales chap on the Radio Wales phone in I was on the other day was wholly unapologetic about promoting an endless diet of football, rugby union, cricket and racing, interwoven with the occasional moment in the sun for a handful of other sports. “You’re on Sky occasionally,” he said. “What more do you want? Excuse me for asking. Mind you, throwing your weight around like that isn’t clever: it’s just pathetically nineteenth century. He wouldn’t last thirty seconds in a proper netball match.
Many newspaper circulations are falling. So what’s the risk in throwing in a few stories off the mainstream? You never know. People might even read them. Until then, the line “no one’s ever heard of them”, also used this week in response to some of the female world champions, will be allowed to stand. Put them out there. Promote them. Give the younger girls dropping out of sport some more role models to follow.
As for netball, where I’ve been involved for two years now, England just beat those established heavyweights of the sport – New Zealand and Australia – to win a world title last weekend. To the Western Mail and others it may as well have been a competition between Martians in Scrabble played a thousand fathoms under the deepest ocean.
Netball has some magnificent role models. Without the promotion they’ll continue to do sterling work for their sport, and for which they, like so many others, are paid nothing. But it would be so much easier with media support. Just a few crumbs from the main sports’ table.
I suppose that, if nothing else, the haphazard nominating process for this award has highlighted the issue. But it doesn’t make it any the less of a crusade for those of us involved in women’s and girls’ sport.