Some netball coverage in the media at last! in a story about the lack of coverage of netball in the media…
This article titled “Ignored and unpaid: our (female) sporting heroes” was written by Zoe Williams, for The Guardian on Friday 2nd December 2011 20.15 UTC
A young female rower told me two years ago that the big scandal of the way women were treated in UK sport was best illustrated by netball: it was never covered by the media, even though we were among the best in the world.
As host nations of the Olympics, we could have nominated it as one of our four new events. Instead, we chose women’s boxing: no spectator base, no foothold in schools, no realistic chance of it catching on, but you wanted equality, ladies? Here, take a punch in the face.
Two years later, the England women’s team has just won the World Netball Series, beating Australia and New Zealand, despite the fact that Australasian leagues are mainly professional, whereas our players have to rule the world while holding down full-time jobs.
Karen Atkinson, captain of the England squad from 2008 to 2011, has won 122 caps. Is she on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year (Spoty)? Do you even know what she looks like? Of course not. All it takes for the patriarchy to triumph is for feminists to not moan loudly enough.
Atkinson, 33, has now retired and coaches the Hertfordshire Mavericks, who are top of the Superleague. I saw them all doing fitness tests in Bisham Abbey on Thursday night.
She said: “Probably the only sport that we’re comparably good at is women’s rugby, and nobody knows about that either. It’s systemic, it’s not a surprise.
“The people who are the judges for Spoty nominations are reporters and they nominate from the sports they cover. If they won’t cover female sports, how are they supposed to know about them?”
Many people don’t realise that netball is such an exciting sport for spectators, much faster than basketball and with less stopping and starting. You say the word “netball” and everybody gets an image of a load of 10-year-olds, outdoors in the winter, with bright blue legs.
But this isn’t the only women’s sport that is overlooked by the BBC’s list, and by the media generally.
Chrissie Wellington, four times world champion, has never lost an ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon run (raced in that order and without a break); Sarah Stevenson became taekwondo world champion in South Korea this year; we have swimmers and cyclists; we have the best women’s cricket team in the world.
Netballer Lindsay Keable, 23, said: “I think it’s actually a bit harder when you’re in a sport that has a profile male version: because not only do you have to compete on your own terms, then when you win, everybody turns round and says you’re not as good as the men.”
I can see that point, but looking at the total lack of coverage for all women’s sports, it seems to me that they’re all equally disregarded. Sasha Corbin, 23, who was part of the triumphant England netball squad, remarked mildly: “When you don’t see any women in sport, you do think is that because we’re not good enough?”
Keable, incidentally, was selected for the England team but couldn’t get the time off work: she’s a teacher.
Camilla Buchanan, 27, is captain of the Mavericks and fits in four hours of training a day around a nine-to-five job. She’s particularly aware of the, ahem, gender gap, because she has a younger brother who’s a professional footballer (Elliott Buchanan, who plays for Newport) and an older brother who was semi-professional.
“I do think we could produce better individual athletes [in netball] if we had more time. But in some respects, I think it makes us better, because we work so hard, we have to fight so hard, that there’s no form of complacency.
“When you turn up to a match, you haven’t put all that effort in just to go home with nothing. So it gives us an edge.”
This is a uniting feature of all the players, a tendency to see the best in every situation. It’s possible this is something you need to do sport in the first place, or maybe they teach it in sports psychology.
Corbin, who has consistently been on the winning team in the Fiat Superleague (she was in Team Bath before the Mavericks), makes this winsome remark, which sort of explains to me why sportswomen don’t bang on very much about equality – they appear to be concentrating on the sport: “It’s nice to keep seeing the confetti coming out of the blowing machine.”
Nevertheless, it should be chastening for broadcasters to hear Keable’s five-year plan. It comprises winning a load of things, culminating in the World Championships of 2015: it all sounds quite likely.
“In four years,” she says, “we might have the BBC interested. They could always put us on the red button, so people could turn over.”
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