Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Why sport's not a level playing field

Being a fan of honesty, I'm glad there are no women on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year nominations list.

Because the absence of a single woman on the list of ten crystallises a truth universally unacknowledged but evidentially clear; in this country, sport is male turf, and there's no enthusiasm from the big boys to invite women in.

It was ever thus. This might be the first all-male list, but the argument that it's just a weird, exceptional year is nonsense.

Thanks for the crumbs in past years guys, but the usual inclusion of one of two token girls - usually the ones who couldn't be ignored 'cause they won big shiny Olympic medals or glammed up for A Question Of Sport - does NOT prove that brilliant sportswomen are celebrated by journalists and programme makers with unbounded zeal.

And by asking for Sports Personality nominations from top shelf lads' mags like Nuts, while failing to approach a single women's publication, the BBC displays its own, thoughtless bias.

Don't get me wrong, I accept that women's sport isn't as exciting or impressive as men's. Men are faster and stronger, bottom line. But that's not the point. The BBC award - and the idea of fairness in coverage in general - is supposed to reward achievement within one's field.

There are thousands of young girls passionate about sport in our schools right now. Many will drift away through their teens. But for those who remain interested - and for the sake of fighting to enthuse those girls on the verge of being lost - we need a more level-playing field.

We need our almost entirely male bunch of sports editors (don't any of them have daughters?) to feel just a little responsibility to seek out the heroines, find the story, create the headlines - as they work so hard to do for male sports stars - and shine a light.

At the moment, their schtick is standing back in admiration while other men do great things. Women doing great things? Meh.

The truth is, men believe sport to be their territory and too many regard the idea of having to work harder to include high-achieving women a politically correct drag.

It's one of the last gentlemens' clubs, all the more alluring and powerful because its walls are invisible, its rules unwritten.

I wasn't surprised when I heard the female sports editor of a university newspaper describe on the BBC this week the contempt and disrespect repeatedly shown to her when she turned up to interview the men who manage sport across the UK. Her male co-editor? They fawned over him like a son.

This attitude pervades all debate around sport. Discussing on 5Live recently where David Beckham will go when his contract with LA Galaxy runs out, one of the all-male panel suggested his wife might have a say.

After a joke about which city had the best shops, the notion was put to bed with a few sneering laughs.

It seems that while most men admit their wives usually make those kind of decisions in their own families, when it comes to sport, the man is king (even if his wife is running a £60m business).

Yes, more men are interested in sport than women. I don't argue for a 50/50 media attention split.

But when women like Keri-anne Payne or Rebecca Adlington do deserve acknowledgment, they shouldn't be ignored or sidelined with a moronic Richard Keys-style one-liner. Wake up and smell the oestrogen guys.

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