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A dissenting voice

Martin Roberts dons his hard hat

I happened to watch The One Show on BBC1 last night, on which the guest of the day was broadcaster Clare Balding who was there to plug the Women’s Boat Race, which she has deliberately departed Channel Four Racing to present, along with its male counterpart, today.

Call me old-fashioned [how many contributors to the Rust have begun a piece in this fashion?] but I’m not particularly enamoured of the equal-opportunity/politically-correct drive that has embedded itself in UK media broadcasting.

My views are not going to make me popular with modern feminists or the broadcasting elite, but the fact is that the overwhelming majority of sports fans are men.

Those women who are always campaigning for equality, equal status and even equal money conveniently forget that this is the prime reason that male sport attracts far greater audiences, sponsorship and other revenues.

Last night I watched Ms Balding’s admittedly excellent report for The One Show on the Women’s Boat Race since it began in the late 1920s.

Now – today – it’s going to be taking place on the same course of the River Thames as the Men’s race (only is it an hour beforehand?).

Yes, they’re going to get the sort of huge worldwide television audience that they’ve never attracted previously. However, they’re going to get it because the vast bulk (of whatever their viewing figure proves to be) is waiting to watch the Men’s race – and, in this context, the Women’s race is nothing more than a little bit of novelty to add spice to the afternoon, no doubt preferably accompanied by one of the crews sinking and having to be rescued from drowning by the UK’s outstanding rescue services.

Later in the same edition of The One Show, there was a ‘throw’ to Aintree where two lady jockeys were interviewed about the prospect of riding in today’s Grand National. One of them was definitely going to be riding in it, and the other currently didn’t have a berth this year, but even at this stage was hoping to obtain a last-minute one.

True equality will come, of course, not when we get features on the one (or three?) lady jockeys who ride in the Grand National just because they’re female, but actually when we don’t.

The same goes for snooker … or Formula One … or equestrianism … or whatever.

I suppose my gripe is a gut feeling that women will actually deserve equal billing, publicity and prize money when they compete on equal terms with men. I just don’t consider that they necessarily deserve it when they don’t.

Take tennis, for example, where the ladies only play ‘best of three sets’ in the Majors and yet these days get paid similar to the men. If they want to get paid similar – in my view – they should play ‘best of five’ … and indeed (logic demands) maybe they should actually also play in ‘Open’, i.e. mixed gender, events.

Otherwise, let’s be honest about this, they’re getting paid ‘top whack’ money for performances which – by definition, or very rarely – are truly (ignoring gender for the moment) deserving of world class status.

[Let me add here an acknowledgement of the slightly different – commercial – point that some modern lady tennis players make zillions from their looks, modelling and merchandising products, quite separately from their athletic or playing results. So do some male tennis players. However, this reinforces my main thrust that the sometimes irrational rules of commercial success cannot be ‘regulated’ to provide equality. If it did, presumably the same people who bleat about female equality would be demanding equality of sponsorship and merchandising income for female tennis players who aren’t perhaps quite as supposedly attractive as Maria Sharapova or Anna Kournikova ...]

I’m not making a mountain out of this. I’m not seeking that the wheels of progress should be turned backwards and that we should live in the 19th Century or anything. I accept that human society is constantly evolving and that, in every avenue possible, women are totally entitled to equal opportunity.

But not necessarily privileged status, as in “The men get it, therefore so should we”.

No ladies – you should get all the spoils when you deserve them, not just because another group does.

[I’ll get me coat …]


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About Martin Roberts

A former motoring journalist, Martin lists amongst his greatest achievements giving up smoking. Three times. He holds to the view that growing old is not for the faint-hearted. More Posts