Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Invisible Invincibles

Last Sunday, Manchester City won the league title without having lost a single match. No, not the men's team. You'd definitely have heard all about it if it had been them. Manchester City Women's FC, who secured that achievement with a 1-1 draw against Birmingham City.

In fact, they haven't been beaten in the WSL for 18 months, and as well as winning the WSL title they also won the WSL Continental Cup. Imagine if the Man City men's team, or any men's team, won the Premier League unbeaten on their way to the Double. It wouldn't be out of the news for weeks.

So why hasn't their success attracted more attention? Is this indicative of the attitude that we still have towards women's sports?

Despite big strides forward in recent years, with football, cricket and rugby all now featuring professional women players, women's team sports are still light-years behind the men in terms of money, sponsorship and media attention. Top women footballers in England can earn around £35,000 a year. Compare that with the £150 million 6 year contract that Gareth Bale has just signed. Can higher salaries be justified however, with average WSL attendances last season just 1,400? Maybe the public simply aren't that interested in women's sport, hence lower attendances, lower salaries and less attention in the media.

Perhaps it's a chicken and egg situation though. If women's sport received more air-time, maybe more people would go and watch it. Intervention can come in other ways too. Manchester City has invested a lot of money in its women's team, subsidised by the massive income their men's team generates. If more clubs did the same perhaps the women's game would receive the boost it needs to move up to the next level.

For some reason the differences don't seem so great away from team sports. Tennis introduced equal pay in Grand Slams some years ago, although the comments made by Indian Wells tournament organiser Raymond Moore made it clear that not everyone in the men's game approves of that, and the Rio Olympics saw just as much attention for Jessica Ennis-Hill, Laura Trott and Nicola Adams as for Mo Farah, Bradley Wiggins and max Whitlock. Maybe it's just team sports that we have it ingrained that they are primarily men's sports.

UK Sport and Sport England earlier this week warned British sports governing bodies that they must include more women in the running of their sports if they want to continue to receive funding. The fact that they needed to do this highlights the fact that sport is still a male-dominated institution, both on and off the pitch.

It is clearly going to be a slow process, but Man City have thrown down the gauntlet to other clubs. Perhaps, if some of them accept the challenge, women's football will gradually rise in popularity and attention, and maybe in the future we will celebrate a women's team of invincibles in the same way as a men's side.