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Winners and losers: Against the odds?

Updated Thursday, 20th March 2008

Women's cricket goes professional but public attitudes to women's sport are still riddled with discrimination.

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Heather Mitts Creative commons image Icon  黒忍者 under CC-BY-NC licence under Creative-Commons license The two weeks of sport in the run up to Easter 2008, especially the weekend of March 15th and 16th offered a wide range of sporting events, with news of successes and failures, triumphs and disasters, often featuring the language of ‘the triumph of the under dog’ or ‘giant killers’, much beloved by the British media, especially in the sports pages of the press.

Only one premiership club remains for the semi-finals of the FACup, with none of the top four still standing; lower league Barnsley having defeated firstly Liverpool and then the mighty Chelsea. Wales, triumphantly and gloriously won the rugby Grand Slam, having secured the Triple Crown the previous week. England’s men, having lost their first match, in spite of having been expected to win, managed to level their cricket test series in New Zealand in their current tour. The politics of the Beijing Olympics continues to rumble.

The BBC sports site, yields a particularly rich diversity of sports coverage in a week characterised by the range of sports covered and the diversity of outcomes.

Diversity and drama largely doesn’t extend to women’s sport in this week of sport. By following the links to the BBC’s cricket website, however, there is news of a ground breaking development in women’s cricket, which has in the mainstream press passed unnoticed, although Clare Connor, head of women’s cricket describes it as ‘a massive step forward for the women’s game’.

Members of the England women’s team are to take up coaching positions at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in April, which would mean making the women’s game professional. Until now women players were all amateur and received only personal awards from Sport England, which only barely covered expenses. We are reassured that this is not a reward for winning the Ashes in Australia in February 2008, although it is not clear why a reward for so great an achievement should not be appropriate. This step is seen as enabling those contracted to the ECB to work as ambassadors for the ‘Chance to Shine’ scheme that takes cricket to state school pupils and encourages more girls to play, thus placing the initiative in the context of policies to promote sport as healthy practice and citizenship through sport.

This is not the same as the stories of giant killing that dominate the sports pages. Women are not constructed as plucky warriors overcoming more privileged opposition, but as victims of disadvantage and at best, as worthy recipients of some extra help.

Sports fans are invited to comment on the 606 Debate site, where comment, although largely supportive, is framed largely within a discourse of charitable patronage that echoes the language deployed in policies and practices that promote diversity in sport, where woman are grouped with under-represented or disadvantaged groups including minority ethnic people, people with disabilities and drug users.

This is not so much about overcoming the odds, but about being fortunate enough to be granted a concession. It’s good news for the women’s game, but worth noting where the action remains, especially on the sports pages.

Pictured: Heather Mitts, of the American team at the Women's World Cup

 

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