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An Even Playing Field

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On Friday 16th March, along with my favourite feminist, I spent the day at Media City in Salford Quays at Women in Sport North. The brain child of Kate Hardcastle, the event hosted by BBC Sports Reporter/Presenter Tanya Arnold and Sports Reporter Jessica Creighton was teaming with awesome women from the world of sport. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, Hannah Cockcroft, MBE, Kadeena Cox MBE and Marilyn Okoro, all sharing their stories of sporting glory and the not so gold and shiny reality of what it looks and feels like to be a woman in sport.

 

The room was awash with those who watched, listened, coached, read about, reported on or competed in sport. The level of ability ranged from Gold Medal winning Olympians to couch potato arm chair supporters, eight-year-old giddy wannabees to 74-year-old Iron Man smashers. Whatever the level, there was no taking away the passion in the room for sport.

 

 

The message from the front was loud. Age and ability are no barrier. The back story is insignificant when on the field of play. Sport has the power to change the world- it’s just down to us to make it happen.

Barbara Slater OBE, BBC Director of Sport opened the day highlighting how far we have come in bringing competitive women’s sports events to the masses. With anything from 30% down to as little as 7% of TV coverage, she was honest enough to take the stand, acknowledging that “there is still so much to do to keep the sense of momentum” just to put women athletes, journalists, judges, referees, coaches and commentators on an even playing field.

Hannah Cockroft’s open honesty was both heart-warming and heart breaking as she told of the hate and jealousy she experienced on becoming a winner. With no kit sponsor, to represent her country she is out of pocket. When it comes to sponsorship “I had more medals- he is a man-that’s how it rolls” she said in comparing her sponsorship with that of Johnny Peacock.

Every one of the sporting heroes who took to the stage had a shared hatred of the word inspiring. They didn’t want to be thought of as inspiring and are all adamant that their back stories are irrelevant.  It isn’t about sacrifice- it is about choice. And rightly so that they want and deserve to be defined by their talent and not their disability, race, age or gender.

Marilyn Okoro- “I am just a normal girl doing something extraordinary”.

 

Last Sunday night, as part of the 100 years of the RAF Celebrations the BBC highlighted other normal girls who back in World War II did something extraordinary, risking life and limb, delivering untested brand new fighter planes to air fields across the country to waiting airmen off on bombing campaigns over Germany. No training was given, they just had to read the manual before take off

Dubbed the ‘Attagirls’ by their male comrades, the 168-strong squadron based at RAF Hamble in Hampshire and RAF Cosford in Shropshire flew over 38 types of aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancaster Bombers, flying the planes from factories to military airfields and piloting air ambulances. The women’s survival rates were one in ten. One such pilot, Mary Ellis of the Isle of Wight flew with the squadron during the War and piloted more than 1,000 planes of 74 different types. Among them, the gargantuan Wellington Bomber, which, she said in an interview with Alan Titchmarsh for the Telegraph, provoked such consternation among the ground crew when she delivered it, that they insisted on searching the plane for the ‘real’ pilot

Receiving equal pay to that of their male colleagues, the Attagirls secured equality out of necessity.

How sad that 70 years ,on we have taken a huge backward step and still have so much to do to overcome the necessity and create the reality of an even playing field?

Ruth.

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