Women's Sport: The ten biggest moments in a transformative decade for women's sport

The 2010s were a huge decade for women’s sport. In the last year alone so much has changed that the landscape is almost unrecognisable. In 2018 Women in Sport research showed that coverage of women’s sport peaked at ten per cent of the total UK sports coverage.

Over the summer of 2019, this changed dramatically – on the BBC Sport home page, for example, 45.7 per cent of the top ten stories were about women’s sport. 

There are also more professional sportswomen than ever in the UK. In 2014 the England and Wales Cricket Board created central contracts for 18 players. For the 2018/19 season, the Women’s Super League became fully professional for the first time and in January 2019, 28 full-time professional contracts were introduced for the England Women rugby union team.

That’s why we’ve looked back at some of the decade’s biggest moments in women’s sport. Not everything on the list is positive – we want to celebrate the achievements and progress made but we can’t shy away from some of the darker events. It isn’t exhaustive, but we have focused on covering a range of sports.

The tides are turning for women’s sport. Let’s hope that by the time the next decade comes to an end, memories of professionalisation are distant, pay parity is widespread and coverage is evenly split between men and women’s sport, not just in major tournaments but all the time. 

London Olympics 2012

With the introduction of boxing for women, this Olympics was the first time that women competed in every sport in the programme. Team GB’s Nicola Adams won the historic boxing gold. What’s more, it was the first Olympics where every participating country had female athletes in their teams.

Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on women competing at the Olympics and 800m runner Sarah Attar and judo competitor Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani made history as the first women to represent their country. Qatar and Brunei also sent women to compete for the first time.

It was the first games where teams USA and Canada fielded more women than men. It’s no surprise that the tournament was dubbed “the women’s Games” by the press at the time. 

Team GB win hockey gold medal at Rio Olympics 2016

It was one of the moments of the Rio Olympics for Team GB. After a tense final, Team GB and the Netherlands drew 3-3. Everything came down to a penalty shoot-out that Team GB won 2-0. It was the first Olympic gold medal for the women’s team.

A Sport England study released after the Olympic win showed that the number of women playing hockey regularly had increased by 4,500 to 92,700.

Since then Team GB has had a rocky road to Tokyo 2020 qualification, but with their place secured they are looking to defend their title and inspire the nation all over again.  

Serena Williams’ Australian Open victory 2017

The 2010s have been an awe-inspiring decade for Serena Williams. On the court, she won 12 of her 23 major titles (the most major singles titles of any man or woman in the Open Era) in the past ten years. Off it, she is a vocal advocate for gender and racial equality.

Her 2017 Australian Open victory against sister Venus Williams is remarkable because it took her past Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles and because she was approximately two months pregnant when she won.

There is a lot of fear and confusion about exercising when pregnant and certainly, there’s no one-rule-fits-all solution, but Williams demonstrated how incredible women’s bodies are (and how incredible she is!).

Since then she has spoken about how she almost died giving birth, drawing much-needed attention to the fact that black women are statistically more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes in America and around the world. 

Eniola Aluko calls out racism in the England Camp 2017

Let’s start with the fact that Eniola Aluko is a hugely talented footballer, who should not be defined by this one event. She was the joint top scorer in qualifying for the 2015 Women’s World Cup with 13 goals and has had successful careers at Chelsea, Juventus and as a pundit.

That said, when Aluko accused Mark Sampson, England Women’s head coach, of bullying and racism, she shone a light on racism in the women’s game that hadn’t been talked about before.

In 2017, it emerged that in 2016 Aluko had accused Sampson of making racist remarks. In total the FA conducted three investigations, clearing Sampson twice. After teammate Drew Spence came forward, corroborating Aluko’s statement, Sampson was found to have made “ill-judged attempts at humour”. By the time of the ruling, he had been sacked from his job with England after “inappropriate” relationships with female players in his previous role at the Bristol Academy. 

Over the past decade, Aluko’s story has come full circle. In 2019 she released a memoir – They Don’t Teach You This – telling her story like never before. Then in November 2019, Sampson was embroiled in another racism scandal, accused by the FA of using racist language.

Aluko paid a price for fighting against racism – Sampson dropped her from the England squad.

At a time when racism in football is increasingly visible, we can’t pretend that the women’s game exists in a separate utopia from the men’s game. As the women’s game grows, we need to find a way that racism within it doesn’t grow too. Aluko paved the way. 

England win the Cricket World Cup 2017

Before the men won it in 2019, the women were there first, winning the ICC World Cup in 2017. It is the first time that both England men and women have held the world cups at the same time.

England Women beat India by nine runs to lift the 50-over trophy for their fifth World Cup win. This time, however, it was in front of a sell-out crowd at Lord’s. It was the biggest ever crowd for an ICC Women’s World Match. There was also record-breaking media coverage, with the tournament reaching 50 million people worldwide. 

After a dismal 2019 Ashes series, structural changes are coming into effect for next year. Lisa Keightley is starting as England Women’s first-ever full-time coach and with the launch of the new tournament The Hundred and the formation of eight new regional centres of excellence, who knows what the 2020s have in store for England Women.  

Netball Commonwealth Gold 2018

Helen Housby is the shooter who launched thousands of returns to the popular PE sport with her last-minute winner against Australia in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games netball final.

Since that moment netball in the UK has gone from strength to strength and the high-profile Liverpool World Cup, where the Roses won bronze, has only boosted participation further – the number of women playing fortnightly has increased by 50,000 since May 2019 to over 300,000.

The schoolgirl sport has never been cooler and is finally getting the respect it deserves. 

The Women’s World Cup 2019

You could write a whole list of significant moments in women’s football across the past ten years – in 2018 the WSL went professional, in 2017 Toni Duggan became the first British player to play for Barcelona since Gary Lineker in 1986, England’s 2015 Women’s World Cup bronze medal – but the 2019 Women’s World Cup was the first time that women’s football felt mainstream.

Pubs up and down the country were showing it, the media attention was unprecedented and people were truly excited. The Lionesses might not quite have lived up to the high expectations they and Phil Neville set for themselves, finishing fourth, but without the tournament, it is unlikely the Lionesses would have sold out Wembley or that WSL clubs would be playing in men’s stadiums with attendance records falling rapidly. 

Let’s not kid ourselves, there is still a long way to go. The 2019 World Cup played out against the all too familiar backdrop of discussions on women’s pay and the lack of support for many nations. On a UK level, WSL attendance figures remain low during non-marquee fixtures. This summer’s World Cup, however, has given women’s football a much-needed boost as the sport looks to continue growing throughout the 2020s.

Simone Biles becomes the GOAT 2019

Where do you start with the gymnast for who records tumble as miraculously as she does? She stunned the world at the Rio 2016 Olympics, winning five medals of which four were gold. Since then Simone Biles has just kept on winning.

At the 2019 Gymnastics World Championships, she won her 24th competition medal to become the most decorated gymnast in the history of the competition, male or female. She then finished the competition by winning her 25th medal.

But it hasn’t been an easy decade for Biles or her USA Gymnastics teammates after it emerged that Larry Nassar, the team doctor, had committed abhorrent abuse of at least 160 girls and athletes in his care. The systematic failures of USA Gymnastics that allowed him to perpetuate this abuse for at least 20 years nearly caused the organisation to collapse. In January 2018 Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison.

As Biles and her fellow gymnasts try to move forward, it is a tragic reminder of how essential it is to safeguard women in sport. 

Allyson Felix becomes the most successful athlete in World Championships history 2019

When Usain Bolt retired in 2017 pundits lamented the loss of the greatest sprinter the world had seen. While many of his records still stand, one has fallen.

At the World Athletics Championships in Doha, less than a year after giving birth to her daughter Camryn, Allyson Felix took to the track in the 4x400m mixed relay and finished the race as the greatest World Championship competitor in history. The gold medal she won in the relay took her World Championship gold-medal tally to 12, surpassing Usain Bolt’s record. 

The six-time Olympic champion also made headlines earlier in 2019 after she spoke out against Nike for a lack of support during her pregnancy. She joined other athletes including Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher in criticising the brand’s inadequate maternity leave and protection for pregnant athletes and new mothers.

Nike eventually amended the contracts but in becoming the most decorated World Athletics Championship athlete in history, Felix highlighted how ludicrous it was that Nike had ever neglected mothers-to-be.

Brigid Kosgei’s marathon world record 2019

2019 was a huge year for the marathon. Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour barrier for the first time and Brigid Kosgei broke Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year-old marathon record. Until Kosgei toed the line at the Chicago Marathon, Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 record was considered the women’s equivalent of men breaking the two-hour barrier. Then Kosgei obliterated it, running the 26.2 miles in a breath-taking 2:14:4 – 81 whole seconds faster. 

Kosgei opened a whole new world of possibilities, reinvigorating the question: how fast can women run a marathon? If you ask Kosgei, she thinks she can go much faster and that 2:10 is possible. The 2020s look set to be an exciting decade for the endurance sport.

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