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Gender equality in sports: still far from a level playing field

After what seems like one of the most intense sporting summers we’ve seen, topping even the 2018 world cup, questions still linger regarding the issue of gender disparity in sport.

Writer, Lucy Austin (@lucyaustinwrites) , takes an in-depth look at how the top-performing female professionals are still far away from equal footing with their male counterparts.

We’re knee-deep in the season where we all go a bit silly over sport. No office is complete without background commentary, TV screens go alfresco, and Pimms is widely accepted as one of your five a day. In fact, it should be encouraged in these divisive times. Supporting and championing our national/international heroes is a welcome relief from the unpleasant headlines.

This year’s summer of sport has elevated itself beyond entertainment and permissibly eating anything that calls itself ‘strawberries and cream flavour’. Fresh from the flush of the Lionesses’ gutsy play, and Wimbledon thrills courtesy of Coco Gauff and Serena, it feels like a real moment in female competitive sport. Not to mention the Women’s Ashes and British Open are all to play for. While we should celebrate and honour their rights to shine, we should be mindful of the balls that continue to be dropped.

While female representation and equality in sport is going in the right direction, it’s essential to view the wins in context, and not take our eyes off the prize (running riot with the sports puns – forgive me!). Side note: As I was referencing World Cup in the above sentence, originally, I (unconsciously) wrote ‘women’s’, and was even tempted to put it in brackets ‘to be clear’. When you first read ‘World Cup’, did you think of the women’s or men’s competition, I’d love to know?!

Gender disparity in sport continues to thrive, claiming attention, financial reward and opportunity from deserving professionals, as well as limiting the space for budding ones to succeed.

There was much cause for celebration of the women’s US soccer team, deserved winners of the World Cup for the fourth year running. Women’s network, The Wing, showed their support in a more disruptive, provocative way. They took out an advertisement in the 11th July New York Times, calling FIFA and U.S. Soccer out on the pay disparity between the female champions, and their male counterparts. While some will make the case that the pay disparity is a symptom of a revenue disparity, the argument isn’t that simple. Structural patriarchy is multi-layered, and just because the ‘symptom’ of the problem is more complicated than it is convenient, it doesn’t mean we ignore the root cause.

The struggle dragging governing bodies like FIFA into the 21st century is real. It’s still far too common across the board and is especially prevalent in the world of cycling. It’s why the trailblazing Donnon des Elles au Velo were compelled into action. The DdEaV are a group of women who tackled the 21-stage track of the Tour de France one day ahead of the men because women still aren’t allowed in the illustrious competition.

The Tour de France (finishes today), which takes place over three weeks, has no female equivalent race. There used to be a scaled-down version until 1989, and there’s a one-day race – La Course by le TDF – but it’s widely seen as ‘token.’ The objection against women competing in the ‘proper’ competition is that they don’t have the ‘stamina’ to complete it. That is, obviously, complete balderdash. I submit two pieces of evidence to the jury:

· Exhibit A: this is the fifth consecutive year the Donnon des Elles au Velo have taken and completed the route – proving women have the stamina

· Exhibit B: the DdEaV are amateur cyclists, not professionals. Just think what professionals would achieve

The prosecution rests.

Not only do women deserve the same platform and opportunities as men, but it would be a source of inspiration to younger female cyclists who may, understandably, have concerns about turning their passion into a profession. Will it pay; will they be taken seriously?

When we only see men compete in illustrious competitions or know that women aren’t rewarded like their male counterparts, it undermines the brilliant macro and micro work that’s being done every day.

Eye rolls aside, what else can we take from these experiences?

We must be mindful of the subliminal message that’s reinforced, amplified and digested by our employees, employers, collaborators and contractors. As the clapping back of The Wing and DdEaV prove and is something we’ve known since time immemorial - if you want something doing, do it yourself.

We all have a voice, and it’s essential that we use it to be heard. No matter where you are in the RACI matrix, know it’s the everyday as well as the big 'actions' which enable change and make for a more inclusive and fairer environment. (I’ve focused on women based on these recent topical examples, but the theory applies to all marginalised people and communities, not just women).

That means challenging our clients and our own teams to make sure women are represented and spoken to in marketing endeavours, especially in male-dominated industries or fields – like sports, business/CEOs, chefs, programmers etc. (some of the jobs where women are still underrepresented). If you work in those industries, could you do more to promote women in your field?

The conversation goes beyond sport, but it’s encouraging that Arsenal now includes both their male and female players in their marketing and communications, and creative agencies like Mughoot, do great work promoting women in sport with their campaigns.

I still applaud going silly for sport. I’m there for alfresco TV screen-fun, and balancing office politics with finding out the latest results; but whether we’re at work or in the park, if the playing field ‘ain’t level, be prepared to get out the lawn roller. Just don’t have a Pimms beforehand.

Lucy Austin is a writer and PR Consultant. Her debut novel ‘Adaptive Consequences’ is out soon. For more information check out:

Website - www.lucyaustin.com

Insta - @lucyaustinwrites

Twitter - @lucy_austin_

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