When I say 4%, it’s hard to swallow the fact that up until recently that was the global media statistic for women’s sports coverage. And I want you to let that sink in for just a moment. If you’re shocked, you should be. In a world where women often talk about feeling invisible, that’s a tough reality to deal with. It makes me want to burn my bra. Which, for the men in the room, is La Perla and expensive. It’s the equivalent of you setting fire to your Oliver Sweeney’s.
But let’s put it into context. When England women’s captain Leah Williamson started out there was no professional women’s league in the UK. She is now just 26. That means that in the space of less than 20 years, the progression of the women’s game accelerated so fast that the Lionesses UEFA Euro 2022 win wasn’t just seen as a second-rate achievement, it was lauded as the coming home of football.
It’s a similar story in other sports. In 2005, the first all-women’s snowboarding movie was produced and released. At the time, this in itself was groundbreaking and Red Bull led the way as one of the forward-thinking sponsors. But despite the talent and determination, women were mostly still showing off simple rail slides and stylish, but arguably unremarkable 360 spins off of kickers. Fast-forward to 2023 and 16 year old British snowboarder Mia Brookes became the first woman to land a 1440 in a competition.
For context, that’s a wild jump from 1 single airborne rotation to 4 of them. If that doesn’t give you chills, remember the more rotations, the more speed and air time you need, which is achieved through longer run in’s and terrifyingly big jumps. The kind that would have you and I quite literally begging around for a clean pair of snowboard trousers. To execute a jump like that takes incredible control and extraordinary core power. But even more importantly, it requires unwavering self-belief. The fact is, that’s another epic leap in progression across 18 years.
Things are changing. The revolution is happening. Women are proving that they have bankability in the athletic space and the skills to measure up to men’s sport. So it would be easy to believe that it’s job done and women’s sport has achieved some unicorn-esque pinnacle. But that’s not quite the case, which brings us back to that 4%. The world has some catching up to do with the race women have been on.
When W Series (the women’s motor racing league) failed to reach its sponsorship for a new season last year, there were media suggestions that their downfall may have been in Catherine Bond Muir‘s refusal to capitalise on sex appeal. The question wasn’t why there are no women in Formula 1 (the top tier of motor racing), but rather why didn’t they sell out their female athletes’ bodies in the name of money?
I should also be clear, it’s not just a media issue. Formula 1 Academy launched this week to some pretty loud social media rhetoric, which went something like (and I am paraphrasing) “women shouldn’t get special treatment to enter a sport that they have equal opportunities to compete in and surely men are just faster drivers than women, perhaps they should get back to the dishes”. If you don’t believe me, go and have a look for yourself.