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Battle of the sexiest?

Phillip Ellis
871   //    08 Nov 2012, 15:07 IST

Alex Morgan #13 of the United States celebrates with her team-mates after scoring the winning goal in extra time during the Women’s Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA

After the girl’s outstanding success in the Olympics, the BBC has been called to account by unknown critics that they should show more minority and women’s sports on their platforms. And so they did, a woman’s friendly football international popping up last month on their 301 sports channel. It was in Sweden, there were about 200 people there (mostly screaming school kids let in for free) and the first football match the BBC have shown that had more people at the ground than watching it at home. In short, there was absolutely no point in this exercise. That’s not even a noisy minority calling for it.

Even England men’s friendlies can’t be justified on TV these days; they are that dull and contrived. The BBC, short of any sort of live women’s sport in the autumn in England, then chose to do a radio commentary on sports extra of Arsenal Ladies Champions League semi-final match to show they were reacting and covering more non-international women’s sport. No girl’s team had ever won in Germany, the justification for the coverage, but still no English girl’s team winning in Germany, losing 2-0 and so 4-1 on aggregate to Frankfurt. Who on earth was going to tune into that?

When the English girl’s cricket team made the Twenty20 Final in Sri-Lanka in September to play Australia, they were the warm up act for the men’s final in the afternoon. Even with the men’s final happening on the same day, the crowd did not rock up until the main event. No one is interested in women’s cricket and it’s the same with women’s football.  The critical female fans required to make professional women’s football credible; put simply, would rather watch the guys play Saturday afternoon.

The English women cricket team

Yes, the girls got 70,000 at the Olympics, but the fans were there to see an Olympic sport, more than the girls, the only tickets left for an Olympic sport at the point, hence the big gates. The girls benefited from the fans inability to get the tickets they wanted. If that as not the case, England’s pre-Olympic international would have been busy. It was not.

The argument of the success of women’s tennis and athletics is always used to say the likes of women’s football and cricket could be viable and self-sustaining at a fully professional level. Well, the FA have called their bluff and told the WFA that they can now negotiate their own TV and sponsorship deals separately and keep all the money, testing the water to see if broadcasters have any incentive to buy women’s sport as not part of a general package with the men. I think the girls are going to be in for a shock at the lack of interest and some clubs could go bust because of this move, the FA teaching them a lesson by the looks. Most clubs have scaled down their ladies teams and community work as it costs too much for little return and Arsenal Ladies seem to win everything because of that now, winning 12 of the last 17 championships. The Doncaster Belles are the only other team most of can think of.

A new women’s semi-pro league has been set up with just eight teams in, the Super League, 3 million the outlay. The highest paid player can get no more than £20,000, hardly worth giving up a good career for. Each team gets £70,000 from the FA and that’s matched by ESPN, who screened the inaugural competition after signing up for a block of men’s Premier League games. That money can’t go on wages. But the crowds are poor and one game got just 50 people. The English women’s cricket team is all-conquering because many of the girls are paid ECB cricket coaches and ambassadors, so can afford not to work and so train all day, a backdoor way of making them professionals. Only the Australians can afford to fund their girl’s team to any sort of level and so the two teams blow everyone away. If the female football stars were to be paid, it would have to come from the clubs revenues generated by the men and so conflicting to the FA stance. That’s not going to happen if only 50 show up.

Beauty over talent?

The unspoken truth is that women’s athletics and tennis stars make their money through their sex appeal and not so much their talent and so the best looking and leggy girls make the most money. Anna Kournikova was a very average base line player but retired at just 24 as a multi – millionaire. Her looks and figure earned all the big cosmetic deals around and they were passed to fellow Russian Maria Sharapova, now the second highest paid player behind Serena Williams. A plain tomboy at number ten in the world in women’s tennis will earn less than a pretty world number 50. The highest earner in women’s athletics is the leggy Russian high-jumper Isinbayeva. The more butch field eventer’s that have achieved far more medals and records are invisible and rely on federation cash and lottery money just to compete. If Jess Ennis wasn’t as gorgeous as she is, would she be that rich and popular?

Sex sells in women’s sport and not their athletic prowess so much. It’s a shame as I quite like the way women’s football is played, a purity to it with no diving and a flow to the game. No one is looking to get anyone sent off and they get on with it. Okay, the goalkeepers are tiny and hopeless but the girls are physical and seem to actually be enjoying the game. It would be nice to see more of that in the men’s game, which is far too cynical and over-hyped these days.

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Phillip Ellis
I write sports for a local rag in Northampton, England.
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