Rugby union and cricket are hailed as the ‘gentleman’s games’ but what about the Women?
England Women’s National Rugby Union side made history by winning the 2014 Rugby Union World Cup and back in 2009 the England Women’s cricket team won both the World Cup and World Twenty20 and have had continued success since.
However, it seems as though team sports such as cricket, rugby union and football are more prone to sexism in comparison with sports that are mainly focused on individual performance for example swimming, tennis or athletics.
And while the sexism may not be as overtly obvious as the derogatory slurs and degrading remarks that women endured just a couple of decades ago it is still there in a much more covert form particularly in cricket, rugby union and football which are stereotypically viewed as ‘male’ sports.
Maggie Alphonsi played flanker in the 2014 Women’s Rugby Union World Cup winning side. She also became the first ever woman to win the Pat Marshall award from the Rugby Union Writers’ Club in its 50 year history as well as being named the Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year in 2010.
Alphonsi said: “Winning the World Cup was huge for us it showed that the women can perform at the highest level and succeed just like the men can.”
But she added: “I do still think we suffer from sexism in sport but it’s very subtle sexism.”
Lauren Winfield is currently part of the England National Cricket Team and has appeared on numerous occasions for her country. She was also one of a group of eighteen female players to receive the first ever central contracts for women from the England Cricket Board in April 2014.
Winfield said: “Obviously the contracts were huge for the women’s game it means that young girls can now aspire to be professional cricketers and earn a living doing so if they wish.”
However she added: “Cricket, rugby union and football have always been considered under the bracket of male sports possibly because of where they came from whereas something like Athletics has been traditionally for both genders.”
Football, rugby union and cricket all have strong origins going back to the 19th century public schools such as Eton, Harrow and Rugby. Incidentally, these public schools were all-boys schools which does mean the games were originally designed for solely males. Over 100 years on from the beginnings of these sports the stigma of women competing in them is still trying to be shaken off.
This ridiculously slow transition has not only effected women playing these sports but has also hindered the progress of women in sport in other roles. For example there are still considerably fewer women in board rooms and executive positions in these sports as well as significantly fewer females reporting on these sports for TV, radio and newspapers.
A few odd exceptions – Claire Balding, Gabby Logan, Jacqui Oatley – have managed to report on these sports however they always feel like more of a rarity than normality. In a similar trend the female games get as little opportunity as female reporters to showcase their talents.
The coverage that women’s team sports receive is miniscule in comparison to the males. We know everything about the men’s games during the build-up, in the match and the aftermath every intricate detail is discussed and analysed. In comparison it is rare that a live women’s game is broadcast particularly anything other than International fixtures.
However, last year the BBC did make a conscious effort and broadcast every game from the FIFA Women’s World Cup which helped to develop a broader following for the female version of the game. Not only did the BBC promote the talent of the females on the field but also allowed women to discuss the games both pre and post-match as well as having a female voice on commentary.
An increase in females in the sporting media is something that World Cup winning Maggie Alphonsi has found herself central to as she has provided analysis on the 2016 Six Nations alongside fellow England Rugby Union legends Jonny Wilkinson and Sir Clive Woodward.
Alphonsi said: “Before I even start speaking you’re always going to get people who say ah she’s a women you’re always going to have those people and if I make a mistake everybody knows about it.”
“But I do receive a lot of messages about holding myself so well next to other legends and analysing the games well particularly when maybe I notice something Jonny and Clive didn’t or they agree with me on something.”
“It’s a privileged position to be in and it’s a huge opportunity for me to help females who want to go into sport and the media coverage of sport.”
Increased media coverage, for women and by women, will allow younger women to watch and idolise female athletes in sports such as rugby union, cricket and football and aspire to follow in their footsteps. This is a proven strategy which is evident by the amount of female athletes in Olympic sports who are inspired by role models they have seen such as Denise Lewis, Dame Kelly Holmes and Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Winfield said: “I go into schools all the time and there are more and more girls playing cricket and I feel like me and my teammates have helped towards that something I didn’t have as a youngster.”
Alphonsi added: “We’re like the first generation of role models for the girls looking to go into Rugby, Cricket and Football we’ve succeeded on the field and its inspiring younger generations of females to get involved in sports that were seen as male only when I was younger.”
Even though there are still issues regarding sexism in sport trailblazers such as Maggie Alphonsi and Lauren Winfield along with many others are slowly forcing these historically male dominated team sports to remove the stigma attached to the ‘gentlemen’s games’ and begin to include and respect the equally tough and equally talented women.