Women and girls are making the sporting world go round

TRY-ED AND TESTED: Thomas Cowley High School's girls under-15 rugby team who came close to winning the South Lincolnshire Schools' Rugby Tournament in 2014.
TRY-ED AND TESTED: Thomas Cowley High School's girls under-15 rugby team who came close to winning the South Lincolnshire Schools' Rugby Tournament in 2014.
  • Football, cricket and rugby are no longer a men-only zone
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Bourne Grammar School student Amelia Gardner (14) grabbed the headlines in the South Lincs and Border Cricket League last weekend with bowling figures of 5-25 off just six overs.

In only her second senior game for Spalding 3rd, Amelia’s contribution was ultimately in vain as her side lost by 224 runs to Claypole.

On the same weekend, former Lincolnshire under-17 girls fielder of the year Ellie Burton took a wicket for Long Sutton 2nd in their seven-wicket defeat to Market Deeping 2nd in the same league.

Both Amelia and Ellie are evidence of the results of a report by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), Women’s Cricket: A Sport Transformed, which revealed that since 1998, the number of cricket clubs providing women and/or girls’ cricket had shot up by more than 500 per cent from 93 to more than 600.

Former England captain and now head of women’s cricket at the ECB, Clare Connor OBE, said: “Women’s and girls’ cricket has enjoyed wider exposure than ever before, with record numbers participating as players and in other roles within the sport.

“When a national governing body fully embraces and integrates a sport, so much more is possible and the achievement of which I am most proud is that women’s cricket is now wholly embedded within the cricket family.

BOWLING 'EM OVER: Amelia Gardner (bottom row left) of Spalding 3rds who took 5-25 off just six overs against Claypole in South Lincs and Border Cricket League Division Two over the May Day Bank Holiday Weekend.

BOWLING 'EM OVER: Amelia Gardner (bottom row left) of Spalding 3rds who took 5-25 off just six overs against Claypole in South Lincs and Border Cricket League Division Two over the May Day Bank Holiday Weekend.

“There is a real commitment, from the top to the bottom of the (ECB) organisation, to ensure that women’s cricket continues to thrive and provide women and girls with greater opportunities to play the game and to maximise their potential.”

A similar story can be told in rugby where figures provided by Sport England to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, for a report on Women and Sport last July, showed that almost 11,000 girls and women play the game.

One of these is Jess Tolson (16) of Gosberton, who was featured in the Free Press five weeks ago and was part of Thomas Cowley High School’s under-15 girls team that almost won the South Lincolnshire Schools’ Rugby Tournament in Sleaford in April 2014.

Jess, now a member of the Midlands under-18 divisional squad, said: “My brother played rugby and while he was doing that, I used to watch the girls play.

I hold my own now and most of the (rugby) clubs we play against know who I am, so I’d like to think that I’ve built up that little bit of respect.

Debbie Phillips, coaching and technical support officer for Spalding Rugby Club

“I took up rugby four years ago and now I play in the second row or a a blind-side flanker where my role is to try to keep possession and retain it.

“I want to play for England or Ireland and it’s great to see that the sport isn’t seen in a stereotypical way because more funding is going into women’s rugby now.”

At senior level, two of the key figures in Spalding’s failed to bid to survive in the Midlands One East division were coach and club committee member Debbie Phillips alongside physiotherapist Jo Barrett-Osborne.

Debbie said: “I moved up here from Dorchester with my then-husband who originally joined Boston Rugby Club.

Ellie Burton of Long Sutton 2nds who was named 2013 Lincolnshire girls under-17 county fielder of the year.  Photo: SG020213-336TW www.spaldingtoday.co.uk/buyaphoto

Ellie Burton of Long Sutton 2nds who was named 2013 Lincolnshire girls under-17 county fielder of the year. Photo: SG020213-336TW www.spaldingtoday.co.uk/buyaphoto

“Then we moved to Spalding Rugby Club where my son played, my daughter played, I played and now I coach from seven-year-olds upwards.

“I’ve been with the club for 25 years and they have made me feel welcome, always supported me, and that’s how rugby clubs should be.

“But it’s tough because most men assume a woman involved in rugby would be a physio and when I say that I’m actually part of the coaching team, they say ‘Oh, I’m really sorry’.

“When you’ve been in rugby for as long as I have, having been to so many different clubs at different levels and in different areas, you learn how to deal with it.

“Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes some clubs make it very, very easy, but there is still that element of sexism unfortunately which you’ll never eradicate I don’t think.

“But I hold my own now and most of the clubs we play against know who I am and I’d like to think that I’ve built up that little bit of respect.”

IN THE SCRUM: Spalding Rugby Club physio Jo Barrett-Osborne (left) and coach Debbie Phillips (right), both are integral members of the club's set-up. Photo by Peter Jullien.

IN THE SCRUM: Spalding Rugby Club physio Jo Barrett-Osborne (left) and coach Debbie Phillips (right), both are integral members of the club's set-up. Photo by Peter Jullien.

Jo has been Spalding Rugby Club’s physio for four years and, like Debbie, knows how to “hold her own”.

“I came down one day just to help out and the main physio was off, so I had all the sports qualifications that I needed to go with the team.

“They are my mates but I’ve got a job to do and I do it, so the boys respect me and I respect them.

“But every rugby club will try it and when I’m in their environment, they try to get one over.

“When anyone crosses the line with comments, I just laugh it off because it’s the rugby club environment and if you can’t take the banter, don’t be in it.

“I absolutely love what I do, even when I have about 80 minutes to look after 15-20 people and you get it wrong sometimes with whether players are fit enough to play on after an injury.”

Debbie and Jo’s experiences in rugby expose the glass ceiling that organisations such as Women in Sport are trying to challenge.

The latest statistics come from Women in Sport, a charity (formerly known as the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation) whose main purpose is to encourage, promote and defend the right of women and girls to both take part in and benefit from sport.

While almost 7.5 million women take part in sport at least once a week and just over 3.3 million do it three or more times a week, just seven per cent of sports media coverage is made up of women’s exploits.

On television, just over ten per cent of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s teams, declining to five per cent on radio, four per cent online and a worrying two per cent in the pages of national newspapers.

Clare Connor of the ECB said: “There are conservative attitudes in all sports, but especially in sports like cricket that were perceived to be the domain of male teams.

“But you can’t just appeal to half the population – you have to promote the game to everyone.”