Equality in sport is one of the biggest talking points in global sport at the moment. London 2012 claimed to be the most equal games ever, and there are a plethora of campaigns running across the world to raise awareness of the complete imbalance in men and women’s sport.
Did you know only 0.5% of total sponsorship income given to athletes across sport in general is invested in women compared to 62.1% invested in men?
I’m proud to state I’m a ‘game changer’ for Women’s Sport Trust, and I always keep a close eye on how others are making a difference to women in sport and how I can make a difference too.
Sport has always been regarded as a ‘male dominating sphere’ throughout history, with its competitive nature just too unladylike for women, who should be at home cooking, cleaning and taking care of other ‘domestic’ issues around the house.
However, although imbalance and inequality is coursing through many team sports, hockey is a striking ray of hope that carves the way through the grey, demonstrating that equality can be achieved, and majestically so too.
One shining example is the hockey world cup that’s set to get full swing under way in less than 3 days, on May 31st at the Hague, Netherlands. Both the men’s and women’s competition is running concurrently, with the men on one day, flipping over the women the next, and visa versa. Equal. Fifty fifty. Even Stevens.
Take a look at the above image of England’s men’s captain Barry Middleton standing side by side with England women’s captain Kate Richardson-Walsh in their official world cup build up campaign picture, a true display of balance and virtue. Nothing separates them at all, hockey is as one, not two separate avenues running where the men are pitted higher than the women. Would you see such images with regards to England’s football captain Steven Gerrard stood next to Casey Stoney?
Thus leads on to the level of coverage received by men and women in hockey. No matter who was playing, whether it was Belgium men or the Welsh women, the same coverage is given to both, whether the World Cup, EHL or beyond. This trickles all the way down to grass level too, although column length in the local paper might be a bit smaller to hockey in general (it’s on the rise though!), the women and men receive and equal amount. This is a great deal better than women in sports’ coverage on the whole, who get a meek 5% of media coverage. Check the back pages of any news paper if you don’t believe me.
This relationship is exactly why the matter of gender doesn’t come into sponsorship deals either, as when you take a look at who Grays might be sponsoring or Malik, or any other hockey brand, the amount of ladies and gentlemen that appear holding the impressive kit are typically poised alike. Monetary value is something that needs addressing urgenrty and still unbalanced with regards to sponsorship, but the amount of women seen on hockey brands’ websites is encouraging to girls and women who are keen to start the sport and need international role models.
This attitude is completely refreshing with regards to sport, showing up the majority of other team sports around how equality is done, effortlessly, without campaigns and just because the love of hockey transcends everything else. Only in hockey you’d see men umpiring women’s games and women umpiring men are game on an international, global scale, and no one batting an eye lid on whether if they’re sporting a skort or a pair of slacks would impede their ability to umpire efficiently. The more I write the more I realise how unnoticed and normalised equality is in hockey, and how much of a positive impression the sport naturally conveys.
Now you’d think there’s got to be a catch somewhere. How about the LGBT movement? Well, here’s the thing, I’ve never experienced any qualms whatsoever in all the 13 years I’ve played hockey, and I’m gay. Internally, inclusion of all people, no matter their sex, race, beliefs, gender, is imperative for the game, and this is displayed on the astro, in hockey festivals all the way up to the international stage.
According the NUS, who’ve conducted research into LGBT participation in sport at University:
Nearly two thirds (62.2 per cent) of LGBT students who participate in team sport are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity to their teammates and coaches.
With as many as two thirds feeling a team sport environment, whether it’s on the pitch and/or socially is that environment where they can feel comfortable about being themselves, then that’s something incredibly powerful and should be nurtured.
Although there have been great campaigns raised by the governing bodies of hockey, such as England Hockey and Hockey Wales, where rainbow coloured socks were worn in order to show support to the LGBT community, but I feel this was an effort to showcase support to the LGBT outside of hockey and across to other sport more, as unfortunately, the same level of acceptance isn’t felt across all sporting sectors, especially in men’s football.
We’re extremely lucky to have fantastic ambassadors for hockey who happen to be gay as well. Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh are highly inspiring to girls who want to play hockey and to those who are gay too. Their level of commitment to the sport and each other is exceptionally honourable, and by being in an environment such as hockey they’re able to be themselves and in turn, encourage friends, family and beyond. The moving interview on the BBC is definitely worth a look.
Beth Fisher has also come out as an LGBT ambassador for Sport Wales, where she’s stated:
“The point is that it shouldn’t matter who or what you are. Sport is a place where everyone should feel comfortable and welcome.”
Field hockey is a sport we enjoy, where men and women support each other, on and off the pitch, inclusion and acceptance is felt across the sport as a whole and a positive, equal essence is quintessential. They don’t call it a hockey family for any old reason. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without mine.