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How is it sport still sets the bar much higher for women?


Jane Merrick

Jane Merrick

Jane Merrick

What caused Helena Costa to quit her role as the highest-profile female manager of a men's team in European football? According to the 36-year-old herself, a number of factors were to blame – including the management of the club.

But Claude Michy, president of the Clermont Foot side that Costa managed for just one day, had his own reason to offer: "She goes with her secret. She's a woman. They are capable of making us believe a certain number of things."

Yes, that's right. We women are as mysterious as the Sphinx, Mona Lisa and the contents of the Queen's handbag rolled into one.

Costa, in fact, gave quite a detailed explanation of her decision to leave before she had even watched her players kick a ball in training. She says that there was a "total lack of respect" and "amateurism" from the club, which included the sporting director wanting to sign players without her agreement and a failure to respond to her emails.

When Costa's appointment was announced last month, she was hailed as a pioneer. But just as individual female achievements are held up as great steps for womankind, those same women are scrutinised to the point of exhaustion, and set up to fail.

Karren Brady, who knows a bit about being female in sport, and, after her appointment as the Prime Minister's business adviser, now in politics, says that women have to be twice as good as their male rivals to be thought of only half as well.

Amelie Mauresmo won Wimbledon, yet, when she was appointed as Andy Murray's coach last month, there was a collective scratching of heads.

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Unlike the England football team, it is now possible to watch Murray playing tennis without a lurching sense of dread. The Scotsman plays like a champion. Yet if Murray doesn't triumph this year, as is entirely possible, you can bet that there will be some commentators who jump straight to the conclusion that Mauresmo is to blame.

Last year, John Inverdale claimed that he couldn't help saying Marion Bartoli, hours before she won Wimbledon, was "never going to be a looker" – "it just came out". But when things just slip out like that, it says a lot about the looks-obsessed culture that tennis has become.

If only, we ask again and again, it could just be about the sport.

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