Women’s sport: a perennial chicken and egg dilemma

John Inverdale
ENGLAND started slowly but proved simply too powerful, and the second half was something of a nonsense as the Scottish defence capitulated. England had left out half of their best players, so the gulf between the sides was laid bare. Sadly, it wasn’t a great advert for the sport.

You’re right. That’s not the game you watched. This was the women’s Six Nations match played at Esher on Saturday when England won 76-0, but it highlights the debate between those who want more coverage for women’s sport, and those who say it’s not of sufficient quality to warrant it. One of sport’s perennial chicken and egg dilemmas.

Television companies are governed by the “who cares?” factor; if nobody cares, they’re not in general going to broadcast it. People are more likely to care if the sport is competitive, and there are big crowds watching. But how do you get big crowds if the match is one-sided, and if you never show it anyway. Round and round.

Governing bodies always claim theirs is “the fastest growing sport in Britain”. But how many times have you been on a tube and seen young women carrying cricket bats to night-time nets? Hockey sticks, yes. Pads? England’s opening World Cup match against Sri Lanka was thrilling, but there seemed more people on the field than in the stands, which looks dreadful and makes the uncommitted observer switch off. But if you don’t cover it at all, then no one will ever know it’s on. Round and round.

Cricket is in the vanguard of promoting women’s sport, via clever marketing and television contracts, and long-term that is what all women’s sport needs. So the onus is on the FA, the RFU, and other bodies when they negotiate their TV deals to interlink coverage of all aspects of their sport. If you want the champagne moments, you have to take others with less fizz. That’s the only way that, one day, they may sparkle in their own right.

TV would love to show more women’s sport, in order to attract different audiences and advertisers. But it cannot be an unconditional cheerleader for women’s sport, and that is where the responsibility lies with administrators and players to have a clear vision for their product. By sharing resources, the home nations could create a competitive rugby championship that inside a decade would attract 10-20,000 crowds, with full live TV coverage. That would enrich all of our sporting lives. That is the challenge for those within the sport, and those who cover it.

John Inverdale’s column is brought to you by QBE, the business insurance specialist. QBE is an Official Partner of England Rugby and Premiership Rugby. For more information, please visit www.qberugby.com.