A memorable summer of women’s sport has seen England teams march into the public limelight with more purpose than ever before. But how much of a lasting impact will the successes of England’s cricket and footballing women make on the future of female sport? Here, Hoops tries to find an answer to that question by looking at three telling stories from the sporting summer.
The summer’s sport had a shaky start back in June, when hosts England lost their opening game to India.
But almost exactly one month later England had revenge, only this time victory came in the final.
The 30 days in between had seen perhaps the highest standard of cricket the women’s sport has ever seen – bigger hitting, better fielding and faster bowling from a crop of players who have embraced increased professionalism and developed accordingly.
But more than that, the sport as a spectacle showed a growth that could secure the sport’s financial future.
— Paul Collingwood (@Colly622) July 23, 2017
Many matches were sell-outs – group matches as well as the final stages – and backing by Sky TV and BBC radio ensured reach beyond the venues.
The fact that the children of three-time Ashes winner Paul Collingwood were enthused to pick up bat and ball not by his achievements, but by the women they saw in England shirts winning World Cup glory, speaks volumes for its potential effect on a generation.
“Hopefully some young girl that’s watched yesterday will be walking out at Lord’s in 10-15 years’ time to play in a World Cup again,” England opening bat Tammy Beaumont told ESPN Cricinfo after the win.
“This is probably going to be a bit of a landmark moment for women’s cricket in England.”
England Lionesses reach Euros semi-final
England’s female footballers may not have walked away from the Euros with silverware, but the scale of their impact on the public consciousness maybe surpasses that of their cricketing comrades.
Four million people tuned in to Channel 4’s coverage of the semi-final between the Lionesses and the hosts and eventual champions Netherlands.
Struggling to put that figure into context? It’s the highest viewing figures for a single programme on Channel 4 in 2017.
While the army of supporters who got behind England were ultimately left disappointed, many were captivated by the quality on show – and the personalities of the players.
The exuberance with which the event was embraced in Holland, not to mention the success of the Cricket World Cup on these shores, speaks volumes for the benefits of hosting a major event.
Perhaps it’s time to bring a Women’s World Cup or Euros to these shores?
— michael owen (@themichaelowen) August 3, 2017
England Women rugby team to defend World Cup title
Closing out the showcase is the England Women rugby team, who will be defending their World Cup title in Ireland, starting on Wednesday August 9 against Spain.
The tournament’s organisers have declared this World Cup as “the most competitive, best attended, most watched and most socially engaged women’s rugby event to date”, while World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont has hopes for “a defining, record-breaking Rugby World Cup”.
So, more cause for optimism, correct? Well…
Despite being defending champions and favourites for the title, the England women go into the tournament knowing that their contracts will not be renewed afterwards, regardless of the result.
That comes with the RFU shifting focus to the 7s form of the game. They will have their reasons. But a situation where women who have won back-to-back World Cups for their country could find themselves holding their P45 seems ludicrous.
Can you imagine a similar situation occurring in the men’s sport.
Of course not.
So, has it been a game-changing summer?
Undoubtedly this must go down as the biggest showcase of women’s team sport in history.
However, that isn’t to say that work to level the playing field between sexes is over. In fact, it’s only just getting started.
The plight of the women’s rugby team shows that success is no guarantee of financial backing by itself.
And while the country’s domestic football and cricket leagues have made significant strides in recent years, they still only offer full-time, professional careers to the cream of the sport.
Regardless, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that women’s sport has made an impression on the public consciousness this summer.
Here’s hoping it stays there.
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