Don't use women's sport just to plug a gap, please Auntie…
22:05 GMT, 23 September 2012
The new director general of the BBC, George Entwistle, began his tenure this week by pledging a 'serious commitment to sport'.
In an interview with the Radio Times, he admitted the Beeb are 'no longer in the same class' of organisations that can bid for Premier League rights, but he has a canny solution.
‘Women’s sport could be a real opportunity for the BBC,’ said Entwistle. ‘Look at growing interest in women’s sport and what opportunities might there be for us in the future as different sports come to the public’s attention.’
Bright future: Let's keep our highly successful female athletes, such as Paralympic cycling gold medallist Sarah Storey, on free-to-air television
You can almost see the light bulb pinging into action above his head. A bit of netball on a Sunday afternoon will more than compensate for the fact we can’t show all of the Formula One any more.
I do think, particularly in light of the tremendous success of Britain’s sportswomen at the Paralympic and Olympic Games, that a publicly funded organisation does have a duty to keep our highly successful female athletes on free-to-air television.
But the same applies to our rowers and track cyclists and all the other gold medal-winners, regardless of gender, who tend to pop up on our screens only once or twice a year.
They deserve an opportunity to showcase their sports, which, you hope, will drive attendance and participation. People, after all, will not watch just because they should: it’s got to make good television, with the stories and personalities to keep us tuning in week after week.
But it is also important to keep these elite performers in the spotlight; to show that sport isn’t something you just do at school until you’re 16, but something out of which you could make a career — as an athlete, coach, administrator or (whisper it) even in the media.
Position of power: The new director general of the BBC, George Entwistle
It’s a particularly important message for young women, of course, because, whereas boys have long dreamt about scoring a winner for England at Wembley, that’s now a possibility for eight-year-old girls.
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I suppose we should be grateful for Entwistle’s Eureka moment; those of us who just enjoy watching sport, whether it happens to be contested by a man or women in a team or on their own, on a horse or in a wheelchair. I suppose this is progress of some description. But it is depressing.
Only 900,000 people, a 6.1 per cent share of the audience, watched BBC2 to see England’s women beat Croatia 3-0 on Wednesday evening to qualify for the 2013 European Championship. There were just 5,821 in attendance. A 5pm kick-off on a Champions League night didn’t help, but do these figures suggest a ‘growing interest in women’s sport’ Or are we back to the days of BOG, Before the Olympic Games
The over-used term ‘women’s sport’ shows its otherness. It implies it is not sport at all; more an off-shoot. We don’t tend to talk about ‘men’s sport’.
Events contested by women, which attract just 0.5 per cent of sports sponsorship deals, are still the cheap and cheerful option. There is an assumption no-one really wants to watch them.
This is a commercial ‘opportunity’ for the BBC; something done not out of duty but because it will balance the books. It is disheartening for those who know female athletes deserve much more, but ‘deserving’ something has never counted for much in sport anyway.
Much better to use this as a platform to try to put this ‘women’s sport’ nonsense to bed, once and for all. Don’t let us go back to the dark days of BOG, please.
What they said
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins revealed he would be willing to invest his own money in a professional cycling team for Britain’s elite
‘It would have to be all or nothing, though,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t want to be involved in a tuppence-ha’penny team. They are the forgotten ones in the sport and yet they have just as big a success as we do with the men.’
…and this is what I've been doing this week
Travelling to Montpellier with Arsenal for their Champions League game. Arsene Wenger was serving a touchline ban but he still oversaw every little detail, making sure he was the last member of staff to get on the plane.
Watching as much of the World Twenty20 as I can. I think it’s an excellent idea to schedule the women’s semi-finals and final alongside the men’s, too — it was a concept that worked brilliantly when England hosted the tournament in 2009.
Good week: West Ham United captain Kevin Nolan scored against Sunderland
Standing in a roped-off pen next to a goods lift waiting to speak to West Ham players about fat testing after their 1-1 draw with Sunderland. ‘I was quite good actually, although I get called Fat Boy by most of the players,’ said Kevin Nolan.
Performance of the week
Laura Robson ended a remarkable summer as the British No 1 and an Olympic silver medallist. She could not quite cap it with her first title on the WTA Tour in China this weekend, losing in the final to world No 53 Hsieh Su-wei 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, but you feel that breakthrough will come sooner rather than later.