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Sporting success – what can women teach men?

There is a kind of inevitability that follows women’s sporting success which invariably means the focus becomes how their achievements compare with their male counterparts. The recent success of the England women’s rugby team in reaching the final of the 2010 Rugby World Cup, along with England’s women hockey team who are in the world cup semi-finals and England’s women cricketers, who currently hold the World cup, the World 2020 and the Ashes, have led sports journalists and commentators to ask: what are women doing right that men aren’t?

Radio 4’s Today programme devoted a few minutes to discussing this in the dying moments of Monday morning’s programme. Sports journalists Alyson Rudd and Brendan Gallagher, who write for The Times and Telegraph respectively, were invited to give their views.

Both said that elite sportswomen held a kind of purity for the game that was unencumbered by the promise of riches. Rudd stated simply that women did not play for fame or money and cited her experience of young footballers who were preoccupied with amassing vast fortunes. Women she said played for the passion of the sport.

Gallagher agreed saying that they, the women, combined jobs and sport extremely well. Actually, he mentioned their ability to multi-task which made me chuckle but he was quite serious in the view that women conducted themselves far more professionally than did the men and that men could learn from the women’s approach.

With specific reference to rugby, Rudd talked about the purity of the women’s game saying that the Women’s World Cup final was an exhibition of wonderful old fashioned rugby, the kind that men used to play before they got huge. This is a point that many rugby followers would no doubt agree with.

They were both very much in agreement and gave a general yet good-hearted nod in the direction of women in sport that acknowledged that their achievements were partly due to their incorruptibility combined with their absolute devotion to playing a sport to the best of their ability. They are unaffected by the nastier elements of fame, wealth and no doubt WAGS, although there was no mention of this.

Some would say that any discussion that compares the relative anythings between men and women in sport should be generally avoided as no good will come of it. The naysayers will always have their way, drowning out the voices of those who expound on the positives. It’s no bad thing then that a programme with the reputation of Today, devoted a few precious minutes to a discussion about women’s sporting achievement.

Inevitable as comparisons are, they should not detract from the women’s game itself. Women in sport aren’t competing with men per se in terms of strength, skill and athleticism but they are constantly the poorer combatant when it comes to public attention and interest and press coverage. Let’s talk about that.