Although the ‘visibility gap’ is still a big issue in sport, it is an area where significant progress has been made in recent years.
Turn on the TV, and you could well see the Women’s Super League or Premier 15s on your screen. Open a newspaper, and you’ll be able to stay abreast of Emma Raducanu’s progress since her stunning victory at the US Open last year.
Female athletes who have become household names are splashed across billboards for Sky Sports, Nike and Sports Direct, while their following on social media is growing rapidly day by day.
The visibility of sportswomen is improving. But, when they do appear on our screens, there are still occasions when something isn’t quite right – their clothing.
Take Harlequins Women’s historic match against Wasps Women last month. The fixture, staged at Twickenham Stadium, was a ‘Big Game’ doubleheader with the men’s team.
It was the first time a Premier 15s match had ever been held at the iconic rugby stadium, and, as such, excitement for the momentous occasion was high.
This anticipation was somewhat dampened when Harlequins Women ran onto the pitch, surrounded by pyrotechnics and fire breathers. Their players were dwarfed in shirts clearly several sizes too big.
It was later confirmed the women had essentially been playing in men’s kit. Harlequins told The Telegraph that the official matchday jersey was manufactured in “one kit, for both men’s and women’s teams” by Adidas.
The club have now vowed to create a bespoke female kit for next season’s “Big Game” event.
For some, the incident with the kit was only a mere blip on a day when a world record attendance for a competitive women’s club match was recorded. Indeed, 9,128 spectators were in Twickenham Stadium as Harlequins Women overcame Wasps Women 29-5.
But the record attendance made the oversized kit all the more frustrating. It was one of the biggest days in the history of women’s rugby, and the players couldn’t even be given a shirt which fit properly. It came across as incredibly disrespectful.
There was a second incident involving Adidas just a week later. At the start of January, the sportswear manufacturer and Arsenal dropped a new training kit range.
It was promoted widely across Arsenal’s social media channels. Among the images used in the promotional material was a cartoon of women’s team star Leah Williamson in the new kit.
It soon transpired that Arsenal were using Williamson to promote a training kit only provided to the men’s team.
Beth Mead, one of Arsenal’s star players this season, took issue with the advert for the kit, revealing it had not been issued to her or her teammates.
“Would be nice if we actually got this training kit,” she wrote on Twitter. Her post was shared widely but was then deleted.
Arsenal confirmed to the i that the kit had not been given to its female players, while Adidas said they would be “proactively working with Arsenal Women to address this issue and find a suitable solution”.
The commercial value of the women’s team had been recognised, with Williamson used in an advert for training kit, but Arsenal and Adidas did not see it appropriate to let their female players actually wear the kit.
The incident showed yet again that female athletes are not treated the same as their male counterparts when it comes to kit provision.
It is nearly impossible to imagine Harlequins’ male players walking out to play in a women’s fit shirt, and it’s highly doubtful there’s been an occasion where a men’s football team has been deprived of a new training kit handed out to their female counterparts.
It just wouldn’t happen to male athletes, so why should it happen to women?
What’s more disheartening is that these incidents involved two of the best women’s sports teams in the country. If they are treated with such disrespect, what hope is there for less prominent female athletes?
This is not to say that there haven’t been occasions where the kit provision for sportswomen has been excellent – Nike’s range of bespoke kits for the 2019 Women’s World Cup was particularly noteworthy – but it is often an area which lags behind the rest of the progress made in women’s sport.
Female athletes now have the chance to play sport professionally, often on TV or in front of thousands of people, and it must be ensured they can look the part too.