French tennis player, Gilles Simon’s comments that women should be paid less and that all 128 men in the locker room at Wimbledon exemplifies the bigoted attitude that women in sport have been accustomed to over the years.
He is entitled to his own opinion but I believe the message he is sending to young aspiring athletes is the wrong one. As an international athlete he has a responsibility to set an example and should respect anyone else who is striving to be the best at what they do, irrespective of gender.
Simon’s reasons about the lack of disparity in prize money? ‘I have a feeling that men’s tennis is actually more interesting than women’s tennis,’ suggested the Frenchman.
His remarks have certainly sparked debate and I believe the only reason why men deserve higher prize money is because they play more sets and for that reason alone. Goran Ivanisevic supported the view that men’s games are more entertaining but if this is the case then give the women an opportunity to play five sets. Give them a chance to claw their way back into matches and make it just as enthralling. They are certainly fit enough.
Playing women’s cricket I accepted that it was a male-dominated sport, however, I still got frustrated. In 2009, when we were due to play in the women’s final of the T20 World Cup, various pub signs advertised the Pakistan v Sri Lanka final and there was no mention of the England v New Zealand women’s final. Later that year, I was dumbfounded when we did not win the Team BBC Sports Personality of the Year after winning the World Cup, World T20, whitewashing the Aussies and retaining the Ashes all in the same year making us the most successful English team in history.
Gilles Simon touches on the fact that sport is entertainment and that people should be paid based on the crowds that are brought in. Women’s cricket is in a catch 22 situation whereby the game will not be promoted unless it brings the crowds in but people will not watch the game unless it is advertised.
In terms of entertainment, I would agree that no-one wants to watch games that are one-sided. In the women’s game long gone are the days when Australia would bat teams away. Now there are four or five teams that compete with each other on a regular basis to create more last ball finishes which is ultimately what makes it interesting to the spectator. In 2009, we saw Claire Taylor and Beth Morgan steadily chase down 11 an over at the Oval to beat Australia in the semi final of the ICC T20 World Cup who probably felt they had enough runs on the board. It was one of the greatest run chases I have ever watched and if you were English you had to feel proud.
The following year in the West Indies, Australia beat New Zealand in a last ball thriller to win the same trophy while their male counterparts, including Michael Clarke, watched on in support.
Steps are also being taken as the girls head towards a more professional era. They are currently semi-professional and dedicate every bit of their time that can be afforded to training. Last year, match and tour fees were introduced so the girls could justify spending time away from work and university commitments which was a positive move by the ECB.
In the media, four or five games are broadcast every year on Sky and BBC 5Live Sports Extra have recently begun coverage of the matches. The ICC world T20 events are in line with the men and both semi-finals and finals are played on the same day which can only help to enhance the interest from sports enthusiasts.
Across sport, women continue to break down barriers. In London 2012, we will see the first Quatari woman included in the Olympics. At 19 years of age, Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad will take part in the 10m air rifle event at the Royal Artillery Barracks. Claire Taylor and Charlotte Edwards have just been enrolled as honorary members of the MCC. Don’t forget that women were only allowed into the Long Room at Lords ten years ago. This summer will also see the likes of Jess Ennis, Becky Adlington, Kerri-Anne Payne, GB women’s hockey and many more competing for gold.
It seems for women’s sport to be deemed entertaining a culture shift needs to occur. People need to stop comparing the men’s and the women’s game because it can be just as exciting and the skill levels are just as high. I have no doubt that this debate will continue to go on for many years but for the moment let’s support these women that have dedicated their lives to being the best and help pave the way for future female stars, not hinder them.
Isha Guha is a former England cricketer who now presents ITV4's overage of the IPL and is represented by Total Sport Promotions Ltd -www.totalsportpromotions.com