There are some key structural differences here: one is a multi-billion dollar global motorsport championship entering its 72nd year, while the other is an embryonic project backed by private equity. But their differing fates shed some light on how Covid has restored the gender divide in sport.
In times of crisis, sport will turn to its reliable sources of revenue: namely men. It’s a crude approach to nourishing the core while neglecting the extremities. “This suggests that recent advances, from the Lionesses’ all-time ratings to the successes of England’s netballers, are built on tenuous foundations,” I told Rafferty.
“I think you’re right,” she says. “My biggest frustration is that there is so much hype around the biggest tournaments and then everything falls off a cliff when it comes to the domestic leagues. I want the Lionesses fan base to support their local teams. It requires a commitment from the general public to follow-up.”
It is not just the sporting livelihoods of women that have eroded disproportionately. In some cases, even their health appears to be an afterthought. In January, as Britain’s Covid numbers soared, Kristine Sommer, the United States rugby international who was then playing for Harlequins, asked why there were no strict testing arrangements in the Premier 15s.
“What upset me the most was the discrepancy in the protocols between men’s and women’s sports,” she says. “We weren’t elite professionals, we weren’t in protected bladders, so we didn’t get any tests other than controls to see if we had symptoms. But many athletes who test positive are asymptomatic. That was the turning point for me. It felt surreal that the reason I didn’t get tested was financial.”
The Test fiasco ultimately helped force Sommer to return to Colorado. “I’ve had a lot of fights,” she says. “No one in the league has made a decision. In the end it was too much of a risk to be in this environment with the potential to catch Covid if I could wait a few months to be in a more restricted bubble with the US team until March.”
Hers is a glaring example of how the basic needs of women athletes have been forgotten as the Covid disaster rages on in the UK. But it is far from the only picture of systemic inequality. Last May Clare Connor, director of women’s cricket at the England and Wales Cricket Board, conceded that some English women’s games would have to be sacrificed.
In fact, a few weeks later, when the men’s team got back into action, Stuart Broad joked on Instagram about being given a women’s toilet to change at Trent Bridge. While women languished on the periphery, men moved to their physical quarters.
It is a vivid reminder of how a female athlete is often disregarded, labeled non-elite and financially cut off in this tremendous crisis. If a year of lockdown is not to undo a decade of progress, these distorted realities must be corrected, and fast.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2021/03/23/revealed-true-scale-womens-sport-left-behind-lockdown/ the true scale of how women’s sport was left behind in lockdown