sports

The Lionesses

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I have been thrilled at how the World Cup has been received here in the UK. Record after record was broken, people were talking about it at work and at home and it felt like there was a real buzz in the air. Could this be it? Could this be the time we win? 

Unfortunately it was not to be, and after Tuesday’s heartbreak (and truly I have spent time mourning that loss), I think it is important to reflect on the impact that the Lionesses have made this past month. I wrote before about the Change The Game initiative launched by the BBC at the beginning of May and how excited I was by this prospect. But my expectations have already been exceeded and it’s only the beginning. 11.7 million people tuned in to watch the Semi-Final, just over 50% of the audience share and the most watched programme this year so far, what a result! 

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I have been far more emotionally invested in this World Cup than I thought I would be, but I think that’s because it has been a real watershed moment for women’s sport. When I was growing up (which wasn’t too long ago – I’m not that old), the only time you could see women’s sport on the TV was Wimbledon or the Olympics. Now, across the country there are little girls turning up to football training sessions wanting to be the next Lucy Bronze, Ellen White or Nikita Parris and that just shows that representation does matter. 

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My friends at work and I have been talking about it. Gearing up for every game. Talking about the one that was on the night before. I even got a wall chart (cool right?). I hope that enthusiasm continues not just over the summer but for years to come (anyone fancy going to watch the Euros in 2021 with me?!). The moment that really solidified what an impact this team have had on women’s sport came on Wednesday when I heard an interview on Radio 5 Live. A 17 year old boy called Abe had phoned in when they were talking about Tuesday night’s match, and he said that at the beginning of the World Cup he and his mates laughed at and mocked women’s football. But on Tuesday they were all down at the pub cheering them on, getting annoyed at VAR when the decision went against us and cheering VAR when it went our way. At the beginning of June, he knew nothing about the team, now he knows all their names and the teams they play for and he’s looking to watch the Women’s Super League come winter. Now isn’t that an achievement! They may not win the World Cup but they have changed people’s hearts and minds like you wouldn’t imagine and that’s arguably bigger than any trophy. Although I would still like to see them bring that bronze back!!

Catch the third place play off live on BBC One at 4pm!!

Radio 5 Live: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0006sq4 

Photo credit: @Lionesses (Twitter)

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Change The Game

As I was scrolling through Twitter one evening, a post from hockey legend Kate Richardson-Walsh caught my eye, in particular, the accompanying hashtag #ChangeTheGame. It turned out that it was a new initiative launched that evening by the BBC to promote and broadcast women’s sport, and I’ll be honest, I cried a little bit.

I watched the video with it’s reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, and I was transported back to all those summers when I was glued to the television watching the Olympics, seeing Kelly Holmes get her double gold in Athens and screaming with glee when GB got their hockey gold at the Rio Olympics and all the PE lessons and sports clubs I got to be part of. It felt like women’s sport was finally being recognised for the powerhouse that it is.

I have always loved sport, whether that was practising my bowling for rounders by drawing a target on the side of our house (much to my mum’s annoyance), playing badminton with my friends every Monday all through our GCSEs, the hockey I still play now or the dodgeball in the sports hall when it was the end of term or raining just a bit too much. I have always found it to be a joyous thing, whether you’re learning a new dance routine in the middle of a field dressed all in pink and singing ‘Baby Shark’, or coming together after someone has been injured to cheer them up and check they’re alright. There is always something good that comes out of it – unless of course you’re the one now sitting on the bench with an ice pack.

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As with anything that promotes women’s sport, there were the usual comments about how it “isn’t as good as the men’s”, how “it’s only because the BBC can’t afford to show the good sports” or that “everything will suck except for Wimbledon”, but do you know what, who cares about those comments? The fact that thousands of women and girls and men and boys will get the opportunity to watch some fantastic sport proves that we’re winning the argument.

A terrifying percentage of girls stop participating in sport once they reach puberty which can have huge impacts on their mental and physical wellbeing as well as narrowing their options in life. Even if they catch one game, one match this summer and hopefully beyond that, it might just encourage them to keep going, to find a new sport they love where they can make friends and feel empowered.

I understand that sport isn’t for everyone, in fact, some people actively avoid it like the plague but it can be such a powerful thing, whether you’re running by yourself, playing in a team or watching on TV. We saw the hype that developed last year with the Men’s Football World Cup; how it managed to bring everyone together, and excitement and anticipation hummed through the air, especially at a time when everything feels so fractured in our society. We have the opportunity to recreate that this summer with the Women’s Football World Cup, which began on the 7th June, or the Netball World Cup, the Ashes, or the World Para Athletics Championships. Hopefully, there will be something for you to enjoy and maybe even get involved with.

Useful Links if you’re looking to get involved:

https://parasport.org.uk/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/get-inspired/25416779

 

Words and image by Eleanor Manley for Anthem Online.