After an incredible summer, it’s time to ensure female athletes get the equality they deserve


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The best sporting moment of 2017 so far, no question

Just like that, the summer has ended. All of a sudden the days are now duller than watching England at Wembley, the nights longer than Fernando Alonso’s wait to be given a decent car, the suburban streets sparser than the crowd at a county championship match.

It’s pathetic fallacy perfectly personified. The frivolities and frolicking of those glorious months have been brought to an abrupt end by the need to return to the day-to-day monotony of learning and earning, which is now casting its shadow upon us.

But let’s not forget what a exceptional summer it was, especially for women’s sport.

For so long female athletes have been unfairly stigmatised as unexciting and inferior to men, with many only choosing to watch them if they just happened to possess attractive physical characteristics that were frequently on show. Their events were often seen as little more than a sideshow, a warm-up or a distraction from the ‘real’ sport.

However, the last six months have proven those views to be entirely incorrect and shown that women’s sport is every bit just as entertaining than anything the men produce, often more so. Furthermore, our girls are also good. No, not just good; they are exceptional. This was the summer they proved they are at least equal to the men.

Don’t believe me? I think you might after looking at this list of achievements between April and early September:

Athletics

  • World Para-athletics Championships: 14 golds and 24 medals in total for Great Britain’s women; includes triple gold for Hannah Cockroft and two titles apiece for Georgie Hermitage, Sophie Hahn and Sammi Kinghorn
  • World Athletics Championships: Silver medals for the 4x100m and 4x400m relay outfits

Badminton

  • World Badminton Championships: Bronze for Gabby Adcock in the mixed doubles
  • European Badminton Championships: Silver for Kirsty Gilmour in the singles and bronze for Lauren Smith and Sarah Walker in the women’s doubles

Boxing

  • Natasha Jonas wins her first professional bout in 92 seconds

Cricket

  • Women’s Cricket World Cup: England win third ODI title with sensational comeback against India in front of a sold-out Lord’s

Diving

  • World Aquatics Championships: Silvers for Lois Toulson and Grace Reid in the mixed 10m synchronised platform and mixed 3m synchronised springboard respectively

Equestrian

  • European Eventing Championships: Great Britain win their first European team eventing gold since 2009 with riders including Kristina Cook, Gemma Tattersall and Nicola Wilson (who also won individual bronze)
  • Para-dressage European Championships: Great Britain claim six golds, with three each for Suzanna Hext and Julie Payne

Football

  • Women’s Euros: England reach the semi-finals with ease before being knocked out by eventual champions The Netherlands; rise up to third in world rankings shortly after

Hockey

  • Hockey World League Semi-Final: England finish third by beating Argentina in bronze medal match and qualify for December’s final
  • EuroHockey Nations Championship: Bronze medal for England and Hollie Webb named ‘Player of the Tournament’

Judo

  • World Judo Championships: Bronze for Nekoda Smythe-Davis and Natalie Powell, Britain’s first world medals since 2010

Lacrosse

  • Women’s Lacrosse World Cup: England secure their first bronze since 2005 with a dramatic last-second winner against Australia

Rugby

  • International Series: England beat Canada, Australia and New Zealand to top the world rankings for the first time in their history
  • Women’s Rugby World Cup: England lose final 32-41 to New Zealand in game broadcast by ITV in prime time slot; watched by 2.6 million people

Shooting

  • European Shooting Championships: Three golds for Great Britain all won by women, with Jennifer McIntosh and sister Seonaid claiming an individual title each as well as the 50m Rifle Team event alongside Katie Gleeson

Taekwondo

  • World Taekwondo Championships: Bianca Walkden becomes first Brit to retain a world title while Jade Jones also picks up a bronze
  • World Taekwondo Grand Prix: Walkden wins her first ever Grand Prix title in August

Tennis

  • Wimbledon: Jo Konta becomes Britain’s first semi-finalist at home event since 1978 and rose to fourth in world rankings shortly after; Jordanne Whiley picks up fourth consecutive women’s doubles title while pregnant

That makes great reading doesn’t it. The likelihood is that this isn’t a complete list either; there have been so many different events across the last few months it’s been hard to keep track of them all. Not only that, I haven’t taken into account the achievements completed earlier in the year, including England’s first Six Nations ‘Grand Slam’ since 2012 and Elise Christie winning three world speed skating titles in March.

They say titles are the only things that make people sit up and take notice and it seems that this saturation of medals has finally brought women’s sport to the attention of the masses. The media in particular have cottoned on and there have been a number of articles in recent times just like this one, celebrating what has been a summer almost impossible to describe using any superlatives currently in existence, which is fantastic to see.

Despite their differences, many of these pieces share one common theme; 2017 now has to be built on. This isn’t the pinnacle for female athletes, this is just the start. If we want to make this equal status permanent, now is the time to put measures in place to ensure it happens.

Let’s force more governing bodies to give females full-time, professional status with year-long access to top training facilities. Let’s create more opportunities for them to sign lucrative sponsorship deals. Let’s encourage the athletes to make more TV and radio appearances. Let’s convince the media we’d rather read a story about a woman winning a gold medal than what Neymar had for breakfast.

The interest is there. The fact that England’s cricketers played in front of a sold out Lord’s and the Rugby World Cup final was put on a mainstream channel at peak time on a Saturday evening proves that. Not only that, but just listening people on the street it’s clear to see they are taking more notice. It has been wonderful to hear others eulogising Anya Shrubsole, fretting about whether or not Cockroft was well enough to race, planning their day around watching Emily Scarratt tear opposition teams apart. Now the challenge is to make sure this becomes the norm, not the exception.

Unfortunately barriers have already been put up which could halt this wave in its tracks. Prior to the World Cup the RFU announced they were not going to renew the full-time contracts of the XV-a-side players, although they must surely be reconsidering that now. The Eni Aluko/Mark Sampson case is threatening to derail the optimism surrounding women’s football. Sports like badminton have received controversial funding cuts that could severely impact on future success.

But the whole point of barriers is that they are there to be overcome and with the momentum women’s sport currently has propelling it forward, they will surely be knocked down.

2017 has been incredible for women’s sport and now it’s time to make sure females athletes are given the status they deserve: equality.

Want to hear more about the aforementioned barriers? They are discussed in much greater detail on the latest episode of SportSpiel – click on this link to have a listen.

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