Open Letter to Tracey Couch on GB Football Team for Rio 2016

Two weeks ago I sent a letter to the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, in order to highlight how important it was to ensure a GB women’s football team was sent to the Rio Olympics:

Dear Ms Crouch MP,

On the back of the tremendous performances by the England women’s football team in the World Cup, could I urge you as Secretary for State for Sport, to lobby the Home Nations football governing bodies to work together to enter a GB team for the 2016 Olympics. The Olympics is unsurpassed in the way that it promotes women’s sport on the same level as men’s and therefore effort needs to be made to ensure that women have the opportunity to play on this stage. Both England women and men have qualified for the rugby 7s but have agreements in place with other Home nation governing bodies to send a GB team to represent the country in Rio. Everything should be done to ensure this is the same for football. I cannot understand what reasons could possibly take priority over the opportunity for a women’s football team to play in the largest global sporting event.

Please could you let me know what you are currently doing, or plan to do, in order to make this opportunity a reality.

Yours sincerely,

Emily Ryall

I’ve just received a written response back and it’s very sad and disappointing. Effectively it looks like it’s not going to happen:

“The home nations are rightly proud of their history and the independent statuses they enjoy in world football, and there remains genuine concern that FIFA could see the coming together of a unified British team in this instance as a reason for them to question the validity of having separate national teams in future world competitions.”

Ultimately the blame is placed on FIFA for not providing sufficient assurance that the integrity of the home nations team will remain if they come together to form a GB team for Rio.

The sad consequence is that the best women footballers in GB will not be able to represent their country at the biggest global sport event for women. These are not the highly paid men that care little about putting on a national shirt, these are women that have fought (and continue to fight) to be respected as athletes and are denied the opportunity to showcase their achievements at the highest level.

I will continue to push Tracey Crouch to advocate for a GB women’s football team and encourage you to do the same.

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#BeAGameChanger – Pushing women’s sport forward

Last night I attended an event organised and hosted by the Women’s Sport Trust. In the room were an invited audience of 350 women and men who have an interest in women’s sport, encompassing figures such as broadcaster Clare Balding, coach Judy Murray (who both made incredibly impassioned off-the-cuff speeches) as well a wealth of Olympic and Paralympic medallists and international and ex-international athletes. This was in addition to business leaders and journalists – all who want to raise the profile of women in sport (you might justly ask why I was there!).

The evening was positive and inspirational and centred around a Q & A session with four current England captains (Katy Mclean – rugby, Steph Houghton – football, Charlotte Edwards – cricket, Pamela Cookey – netball) led by broadcaster Alice Arnold and followed by comments by a range of other leading figures. And looking at the buzz it created, it met its goal easily – with the #BeAGameChanger hashtag trending on Twitter.

Things aren’t great for women in sport from the school playing field upwards but they are better than they were even five years ago and what the Women’s Sport Trust showed was that there is a continuing impetus for change. They are doing exactly the right thing in trying to get the all important business leaders and journalists on board. When women’s sport is regularly covered and reported in the media and money is invested by the corporate world, society will be affected and culture will change. Young girls will no longer feel it is socially unacceptable to kick a ball around with their friends in the park or relish the thought of competing for victory. It is this culture that really needs to change and that will only happen if the wider media start reporting women’s sport as being as normal as men’s sport. There is a long, long way to go on this but the wheels do seem to be gradually moving.

There does seem to be a new feminist movement at the moment, whether from women in science and technology, women in philosophy, women in politics or women in sport. But equally and sadly there does seem to also be a reaction to this empowerment as can be seen in the worrying popularity of the misogynistic online PUA (pick-up artist) doctrine which has been linked to the recent shooting in California by Elliot Rodger, and the horrific abuse and trolling women have received on social media. Yet perhaps the fact that these voices are being increasingly marginalised indicates that culture is continuing to change; that wider society does (reluctantly in some cases) realise it needs to do more to provide opportunities for women to develop and showcase their talents. Events such as the one organised last night are signs that many see the status quo as not good enough and are willing to do their bit to keep pushing forward.

On a personal note, I have always been reluctant to get actively involved in women’s issues because I have been reluctant to define myself as a woman. I have always wanted to be defined by what I do and as such I sometime bury my head in the sand about the barriers women face. Last night reinforced to me however, that until the day where women are on a par with men at all levels of society I have a duty to do what I can to push women and girls forward and influence others to give them opportunities to be the best they can in every sphere of life. So all credit to the Women’s Sport Trust for organising #BeAGameChanger and even more credit to them for getting a sceptic like me to leave with my head buzzing with ideas and a renewed passion in my heart.

If you want to find out more about what you can do to help the Women’s Sport Trust then go here: http://www.womenssporttrust.com/bingo

The ‘sweet tension of uncertainty’ #wrwc

There has been much discussion in the philosophy of sport about what makes a ‘good game’ and the conclusion seems to be best expressed by Sigmund Loland who uses the phrase ‘the sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome’ (p149, Fair Play in Sport).

Essentially, this means that ‘good games’ are those in which the result is always in doubt; the higher the level of doubt, the greater the anticipation of a ‘good game’. It perhaps is also a psychological reason why we (as non-partisan observers) root for the ‘underdog’; we want to convince ourselves that we will see a game where we simply don’t know what will happen. At the very least, it makes life more interesting.

And so on day 2 of the Women’s Rugby World Cup, I’m once again hoping that there really is the ‘sweet tension of uncertainty of outcome’; I don’t want New Zealand to walk over Australia, and I’d like to see Kazakhstan shake England up a bit. It’ll take just one match going against the odds to put the question of doubt in everyone’s minds about all the other matches; the whole tournament will take on a different perspective.

And when nothing is certain, the tension will taste all the sweeter.

5 ways to follow the Women’s Rugby World Cup

  1. Watch the matches live at the venues: All the pool matches are at the Surrey Sports Park. The semi-finals and the finals are at the Twickenham Stoop. Match tickets can be bought here.
  2. Watch the matches live on television and the internet: Thirteen matches are being shown on Sky Sports. For those of you that don’t have access to Sky Sports or are abroad you can watch the games here.
  3. Get the latest news and results from the official IRB website.
  4. Read the articles on ScrumQueens website: this has by far the most in-depth coverage of the tournament.
  5. Search for #wrwc on Twitter: this way you can keep up with all the comments, thoughts and general banter made by the masses.

Why I am excited about the Women’s Rugby World Cup

The women’s rugby world cup will start on Friday and I can’t wait. The anticipation I feel is almost too much to bear. Why? It’s not because I’m particularly patriotic and look forward to lauding England’s superiority in a post-colonial world, as I’m secretly hoping for an upset in the pool stages – maybe Sweden or Kazakhstan will pull off the surprise of the tournament. It’s not that I am desperate to watch some high quality rugby, although for the sake of the game itself I hope the games are compelling on account of the skill level. It’s not even because it is out of term time and I need something to occupy my attention; if only that were true. The reason I am counting down the days, hours and minutes is that I’ve become involved in the women’s rugby world cup narrative.

What I mean by this is that I’ve been following the ‘tweets’, watching the youtube videos, reading the articles on various websites and news outlets, and I’ve found myself starting to care about the characters and the developing story-lines. I’ve become emotionally engaged in it because the characters have been unfolding and it has started to mean something to me; I want to know what happens next.

This is where the media play a hugely important role in women’s sport. Too often the excuse for not reporting women’s sport (perhaps tennis and athletics excepting) is that no-one is interested. The trouble is, that people don’t get interested in things unless they know about them and become involved in the background stories and narratives. As I’ve commented elsewhere, this is where the BBC (in it’s capacity as a public service) has a moral obligation. They need to recognise that engagement only begins after exposure. (Actually, the BBC know this full well otherwise they would never ‘trailer’ anything – how often have you seen the trailer for BBC online news on the television?!)

The reason that so many non-football fans watch the men’s world cup, or that we end up watching some obscure Olympic sport is wholly down to subtle (or non so subtle) manipulation and exposure via television, radio and the web for months beforehand. Once the mainstream media start to do this with women’s sport, then the interest and enthusiasm generated will snowball.

This is what has happened to me and my thirst for the women’s rugby world cup over the last few months in this new age of social media. I’ve become engaged, involved and I want more…