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Will the success of Team GB's women prove to be a game changer?

One of the most positive outcomes of Team GB’s success has been the prominence of Women Athletes winning medals. Author of a new book on the Olympics Mark Perryman considers the likely long-term impact.

A world record crowd for a Women’s Football match. Three more Team GB Golds, all won by women athletes. The first ever Women’s boxing Gold, again won by a Team GB athlete. That was just yesterday, Thursday 9th August, at London 2012. For Team GB these Games have perhaps represented the single biggest challenge to the traditional masculine hegemony that to date has gripped British sporting culture.

And its not just in the ring, on the pitch or round the track. In the BBC TV studio Clare Balding has for most been the stand out presenter, putting the more than occasional hapless amateurism of Gary Lineker, once he strays outside the comfort zone of football, to shame. In the Guardian, women sportswriters have enjoyed a prominence that was previously unheard of even in this paper - Marina Hyde, Anna Kessel and Emma John in particular - while prominent feminist columnists Zoe Williams and Suzanne Moore have contributed pieces echoing the approval of what the Games have come to represent.

All this less than a year after the notorious BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award failed to feature a single sportswoman on the shortlist. To do that this December would be simply unthinkable.

Of course inequalities still exist. No Olympic Woman football, basketball or cycling star will ever earn even a fraction of the money their male counterparts are paid. But the Olympics does broadly treat Women’s versions of the medal sports on an equal basis with the male versions. Few, except the most embittered chauvinist, would treat Laura Trott and Victoria Pendelton’s achievements in the velodrome as somehow inferior to Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy’s. The Team GB women rowers were celebrated every bit as much as their male medal-winning counterparts, in fact arguably with even greater prominence. It is almost impossible to measure the magnitude of Jess Ennis’s Heptathlon Gold versus Mo Farrar’s 10,000m Gold. And while the most puerile sections of the media, and not a few men too, will sexualise the female athletes’ bodies in a degrading manner few male athletes will have to endure, this is no longer the dominant norm.

Last night’s Women’s Gold Medal Football match at Wembley was a sparkling occasion. The previous world record crowd for a Women’s Football match was 76,000; Wembley topped 80,000. The standard of play was for the most part superb, perhaps a tad less physical, a fraction slower than the Team GB's male contingent but this makes for a more skilful, passing game. The goals were of the highest quality, Hope Solo in the US goal putting on a world class performance to keep the Japanese women at bay. No. It's not the same as ‘men’s football’, but then why should it be? These superbly gifted footballers aren’t trying to play the men at the game blokes like to call their own, they’re playing something different. With next to no dissent, the one solitary dive and a single yellow card, in many ways the game was better to watch. In the stands the passion was different; a much more joyful atmosphere than the one I’ve become too used to watching England. No one standing up to block my view and refusing to budge, no foul and abusive language wrapped in hate for others in the name of passion, and most of all none of the drunken, threatening misogyny that too many have excused over the years as just what lads at football get away with.

This has been a glorious two week break from the way sport has become perverted, particularly via football, a process excused by many, I include myself, in the cause of a supposed authenticity of our crowds’ passion. For that grip to be broken I propose one simple idea. Forget about bidding to host the men’s World Cup. 2026 is the earliest now that tournament might come here. Bid now for England to host the Women’s World Cup. The 2015 competition is in Canada so 2019 should be the target. This would send out the clearest possible message that our national game belongs every bit as much to women as men. Use the positive euphoria around our women athletes’ achievements across a whole range of Olympic sports to unravel the hitherto impregnable male bastion of football. Take that brick out of the wall and male hegemony in sport wold come crashing down, for the better. The FA has been scrabbling round for a sense of purpose ever since the Premier League took over the game and the national team proved incapable of getting past a quarter final, mired in the ever falling standard of behaviour of our players and clubs out of financial control. This would give football a mission, one fitting with a post-Olympics mood that would serve to align the conduct of male footballers with than of the Olympians who have graced our arenas this summer. 

Mark Perryman is the author of the Why The Olympics Aren’t Good For Us And How They Can Be, £8 (£6 kindle edition) 

 

About the author

Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest, The Corbyn Effect, is published by Lawrence & Wishart in September, available here.


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