Archive for March, 2009

So many women, so little space

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

There has been an awful lot of discussion about women’s sport in the last week or so – starting last weekend with Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for culture, media and sport. (From whom we seem to have been hearing an awful lot lately. And, yes, ‘when I hear the word sport, I reach for my culture.’ Come to think of it, why are they two different things?)

Burnham was critical of the amount of coverage of women’s sport on TV – in particular the England women cricketers winning the World Cup to a blaze of no publicity at all. Nicole Cooke has complained in the past about the comparable disparity in the coverage of men’s and women’s cycling. And they both have a point.

The problem is that no one has worked out just what sport, and what coverage of sport, is supposed to be for. It might be as Burnham suggested, to provide inspirational role models. In his case he’s particularly concerned by teenage girls, who apparently give up sport so that they can chase boys. (I have to say that that never happened in my day. In my day, they gave up sport… and that was it.)

Alternatively, coverage might be a reward for a good performance – which sounds a little odd until you think about just how often complaints about sports coverage are framed in terms of ‘I think they deserved better.” It was also part of Burnham’s comments. But this is a non-starter, for the simple reason that the reward for a good performance is that you win your event. Press coverage is for the benefit of the reader or viewer, not the athlete. If you’re doing sport just so you get into the papers, you’ve got it way wrong.

The truth of it is that, at the moment, sports coverage is more or less governed by a free market. That means it’s straight entertainment. Papers and TV stations will cover what they can sell – last weekend it was pretty clear that the big selling sports were going to be rugby and football.

Unfortunately, no government minister in history ever succeeded in persuading, by simple exhortation, a commercial organisation to give up revenue for a greater good. If he wanted to produce legislation, I suppose he could – and he could start with the ‘Crown Jewels” list of sporting events required to be free-to-air on terrestrial TV. At the moment there are 10 events, and the only specific women’s event is the Wimbledon final.

If he wanted to be more radical, he could require that equal amounts of coverage be given to men’s and women’s sports – they did it for equal pay in the 1970s, and that was governed by a free market at the time too – but I really can’t see that happening.

The other problem is that it’s not really awfully clear that watching sport provides very much inspiration in the first place. Though a government minister is pretty unlikely to mention that doubt, since most of the justification for the London Olympic spending is that it’s going to make us a healthier nation.


It’s a great pity he’s so wrong. Because I entirely agree with him. 

Always remember, no one cares.

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

I have always been the kind of person who reads instructions. So naturally I thought I’d kick off my blogging career by finding some instructions. I gave up on the 2000 pages of advice on how to use WordPress. I gave up, too, on the blogs about blogging. But wherever I went, I found the repeated instruction that you must remember that other people are going to read your blog (as if), so you need to think carefully about what you say.


Now, here at last I was on familiar territory. This is wrong. It couldn’t be more wrong. Rule one of writing anything for publication is to put firmly out of your mind the notion that anyone else will ever see it. On days when I get that idea into my head, I can barely write my own name. Anything I do manage to put down is immediately re-written, and fenced about with so many conditions, explanations, and apologies-in-advance that it’s unreadable.


You know you’re having a day like that when you typed the sentence ‘It got dark early”, and an hour realise later you’ve ‘clarified’ it by explaining what latitude you were referring to, what time of year it was, whether it was Summer Time or GMT, and exactly what kind of visibility you had in mind as the threshold of darkness.


I’m going to stop now, because writing about this is making me worry that someone will read it. I have a terrible urge to go and explain what I mean by ‘read’.


Sunday, March 15th, 2009

‘Oooh!’ said everyone. ‘You’re building a website? You must do a blog, they’re such fun.’


I got swept up in the enthusiasm. So here’s the blog. The problem is, now I’ve set it up, I’m not awfully sure what to do with it. The biggest issue is that I write for a living, so starting a blog is volunteering to do more of what I do all day, except this time for free. On the other hand, my standards aren’t very high, and no one else will ever bother to read it, so I’ll get fewer complaints than usual.


Presumably it’ll settle into some sort of pattern, given a few weeks. Or not. We’ll see.