Why Syed is talking a load of rubbish

Last week the UK sports journalist Matthew Syed wrote an article in “the Times” where he said sportswomen don’t deserve equal pay with men. He rightly took a lot of stick for that, but he also said something else. While writing about black athletes being banned from playing with/against whites he said “women have never faced such bans”.
Oh dear. Syed doesn’t know the history of sport does he? In fact women are treated worse than blacks in sport. Once blacks proved they could play with whites they weren’t banned. But there are examples – which I will write about below – of cases where girls/women matched or outperformed boys/men. In every case the sport establishment responded by banning them.
Case 1 was in swimming. In 1922 Sybil Bauer broke the world record in the 440-yard breaststroke. The men’s world record that is. She didn’t just break it, she took four seconds off it. Understandably, as the fastest 440-yard breaststroker on the planet she wanted to compete against the men at the 1924 Olympic Games. Surprise, surprise she was not allowed to, the establishment saying that the segregation of the sexes had “ages of precedent behind it”. Using that logic, nothing would ever change. Bauer won gold in the women’s race and died, aged 23, in 1927. The press called her a “mermaid” implying she was a freak.
Case 2 was in baseball. Teenage pitcher Jackie Mitchell signed a contract with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts. The team’s owner. Joe Engel. announced he would play her in an exhibition game against the Yankees. On April 2 1931 she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The response? She was pulled from the game. And a few days later baseball commissioner Keneshaw Mountain Landis banned her from AA on the basis that baseball was “too strenuous for a woman”. A cynic might say it was because she had dared to embarrass two of the sport’s superstars but surely not. The press in its usual sexist way produced the headline “Her curves confused the mighty Babe”.
The next case is shooting. Olympic shooting had been mixed since 1968 but no woman had won a medal until American Margaret Murdock won silver in 1976. Actually she tied with US team-mate Lanny Basham but the judges for some reason gave Basham the gold. Perhaps it was a coincidence but most shooting events became gendered in 1984 with only a couple of open events left. In 1992 a woman – Zhang Shan of China – won gold in an open event – and from 1996 all Olympic shooting events were either male or female. Funny how they didn’t become gender segregated until women started winning medals…
Now two examples from the English FA’s “Hall of Shame”. In 1978 a 12-year-old girl Theresa Bennett was picked on merit for a hitherto all-boys team. The FA banned her, but a court ordered them to let her play. The FA appealed and the Appeal Court sided with them. Yes the FA really did go to court to stop a 12-year-old girl from playing football. They couldn’t sink any lower could they?
Oh yes they could. In 1999 an Employment Appeals Tribunal said the FA had discriminated against coach Vanessa Hardwick by refusing her the Advanced Coaching Licence. Hardwick’s legal team discovered that eight men had passed the course despite having lower grades than Hardwick, and five men had passed with the same grade. The FA had been caught red-handed but worse was to follow. They preferred to pay a £10,000 fine rather than give her the licence she had earned. Incredible.
Some people would say “Yes but things have changed”. Really? While it is true a 2014 Theresa Bennett would be allowed to “play with the boys” being “allowed” is not the same as being “welcomed”. I’ve spotted interviews with three elite female players – Kelly Smith and Dunia Susi (England) and Eugenie Le Sommer (France) where they stated they weren’t exactly made welcome in boys teams to put it no stronger than that. And Marta, reckoned to be the world’s best female player, was banned from a boys team for being too good. Jennifer Doyle summed it up “The shitty thing for girl footballers world over is that you can get away with playing on boys teams – as long as you don’t offer them any competition. The minute you do, they want you off the pitch”. Pathetic, isn’t it?
And for adult women, it is the same. Since 2004, footballer Maribel Dominguez, skier Lindsey Vonn and cricketer Sarah Taylor all either wanted to, or in the case of Taylor, thought of playing against men. The first two were banned from doing so, and Taylor got such sexist abuse from the UK press she backed away from the idea. That wouldn’t happen to a black.
And even when women have the choice it is a spurious one. A woman can’t play in the English Premier League, but she could manage a team, or referee a game. But first the football establishment – a club or the FA – would have to appoint her. Secondly it would take a very brave woman to volunteer to cop 90 minutes of sexist abuse every week. And that would happen. And here’s the proof. Chelsea have a female first-team doctor, Eva Carniero who has a MSc in sport and exercise medicine which proves she is qualified to do her job. When Chelsea played at Manchester City recently she had a sexist song sung at her by City’s fans. To no one’s surprise no one has been punished for this. After all it adds to the atmosphere – and is that not what the Premier League is lacking?
All this proves is that Syed is talking a load of rubbish. Yes blacks in sport have been treated shamefully. But women were – and still are – treated far worse. And don’t get me started on homophobia…


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