Women's Sport: Where do we go from International Women's Day?

For a perfect illustration of the current state of women’s sport, we don’t need to look any further than Australia’s T20 World Cup victory.

Hosted in front of record crowds it was a historic moment held just days after a semi-final fiasco that saw England crash out of the tournament without a single throw of the ball due to a lack of reserve days.

On the one hand, and as yesterday’s International Women’s Day rightly celebrates, we’ve come a long way. The cricket crowd of 86,174 fans attend was mere thousands off being the largest at a women’s sport event, almost breaking the 1999 Women’s World Cup final world record crowd of 90,815.

This follows a trend we’ve seen in football since last year’s World Cup. Record attendance at FA WSL matches has routinely fallen, with the current record set at November’s north London derby held at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

On the other, and as many commentators have already pointed out, the lack of reserve days and the lack of satisfactory resolution would never happen for a men’s tournament. 

As much as International Women’s Day is about showing where we’ve come from, as the dust settles we must use it as motivation to push on. If the T20 World Cup showed anything it is that as far as we’ve come there’s still a long way to go. 

Take media coverage of women’s sport, it has progressed but only so far it seems. Given that England’s latest SheBelieves Cup clash against Japan fell on International Women’s Day, it was slightly ironic that the BBC only broadcast half of the fixture before moving it to the red button and BBC Four.

Granted in the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge deal, after all, it was still on the air, but it’s not something that would happen to the men if they were the defending champions.

When it comes to money the disparities are still vast. This time last year the USWNT filed their equal-pay lawsuit against US Soccer. That dispute is still ongoing and it looks like it may well end up in court.

They at least are professional athletes – in rugby, for example, there is no prize money in the women’s Six Nations and many league teams in the UK are still amateur. Where athletes are professional it’s not exactly rosy either, in the NWSL for example, salaries don’t always cover the costs of childcare, as Sydney Leroux recently revealed.

Then there’s the truly heart-wrenching and rage-inducing case of US Gymnastics. Over two years ago, Larry Nassar was sentenced for his appalling abuse of gymnasts, but there is still yet to be an investigation into US Gymnastics and how his abuse was allowed to happen.

We need to keep shouting about all of these issues to get the sportswomen the justice and equality they deserve. If we stay silent on the 364 days (or 365 if it’s a leap year like this one) when it’s not International Women’s Day then change won’t happen. Women’s sport needs to be front of mind throughout the year, big tournament or no tournament, good and bad. 

Records are wonderful and should be celebrated, but each for equal is an everyday journey towards equality, for everyone. International Women’s Day means nothing if we don’t use it as a jumping-off point.

After a huge year with unprecedented attendance and coverage of women’s sport, let’s make 2020 even bigger. Here’s to equal prize money, equal coverage all the time and bigger attendances at league matches and beyond. After all, it’s what happens outside of the big moments that truly makes a difference in the long term. 

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