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               Women in sport                                                                                                      THE JOURNAL OF SPORT,  LEISURE & RISK  WITH AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE         November 2021

              later lurches forward in the liberation          winning the 100m and 200m double                                    an avalanche of online racial and sexist          and athletics brought a new vigour to their
              movement. There was of course a re-              again and the 7-time gold medallist Katie                           comments and criticism.                           sports and a growing appreciative, excited
              orientation, but these incremental gains         Ledecky showing the world she is one                                                                                  TV audience.
              added to the momentum.                           of the greatest swimmers of all time.                               Those old ideas of poor female physical
                                                               On Facebook, the top five most talked                               and mental strength will still take some          The social dynamism of achieving sporting
              In our era, it is the corona crisis that has     about athletes during the Games were all                            breaking down, yet major forward-thinking         equality for women is now a force to
              perhaps contributed the most significant         women. They were getting noticed in all                             initiatives are now taking place by national      be reckoned with and the movement is
              jolt to business-as-usual. A body blow           the right places.                                                   and international organisations to place          powerful and imaginative. Opportunistic
              to the bloated men’s leagues, it was                                                                                 women’s sport on a more even standing.            pathways in female sports are now being
              suspected that the nascent women’s               Sport in 2021, reflecting so much of                                In tennis, Grand Slam winners all receive         created and well-funded, with rewards
              games would be submerged by the crisis,          lifestyle and social movements, also                                the same prize money, male or female,             evenly available to all, making all those
              yet we have seen women’s sport thrive            became all about the kids. In particular,                           and the innovative blending of sport into         marginal gains made over the past century
              during the pandemic as media attention           it was a bunch of cool teens in the Tokyo                           mixed gender competition was a defining           head towards a healthy, positive fruition.
              and visibility increases. In the UK, there       skateboarding bowls who literally jumped                            trend from the Tokyo Games. New mixed             Our imaginations have already been
              has been a 21% increase in adults following  and flipped the idea of gender barriers                                 team events in judo, triathlon, swimming          captured and now there’s no turning back.
              women’s sport in the past 18 months,             upside and back. A bunch of teenage
              primarily sparked by significant TV deals        girls winning hearts and minds as well
              with Sky and BBC to show regular live            as medals, were key to finding a new
              football from the Women’s Super League           audience for the Olympic movement,
              and the new cricket format, The Hundred,         especially through two 13 year olds:
              where women’s matches took equal billing  Japan’s gold medallist Momiji Nishiya and
              with the male counterparts at peak time          silver medallist Rassya Leal from Brazil
              across Summer 2021. It’s clear if women          who before the Games already had six
              are seen achieving sporting excellence,          million followers on Instagram and 1.8
              more will start their own journeys and           million on TikTok. Who knows where this
              more will be following them, embracing           attention will take participation and, by
              their success.                                   creating a message to all those girls stuck
                                                               in front of screens, that they don’t have
              The summer of sport in 2021 was                  to be tall, muscular or lean to fast forward
              dominated by the delayed Tokyo 2020              themselves towards the mega money of a
              Olympics. Media attention during the             professional sporting career, sponsorship
              Games switches often to sports that              and endorsements.
              usually thrive only within niche and
              specialist groups, and athletes, usually         Yet despite Tokyo 2020 making huge
              women, who barely get a mention in               strides, including having 49% of all
              between Games. This year has been                athletes being women, more than ever
              recognised by many sporting analysts             before, still only 10% of the coaches
              and journalists as the year when women           were women and much distance is still
              athletes rose up even further, showing           left to run against the eternal problems
              some of the greatest performances                of discrimination, abuse and inequality
              of all time, creating a new breed and            in pay. Significantly, the controversy
              breathing new life into the idea of what         over Simone Biles, the most decorated
              makes a great female Olympian. We all            gymnast of all time, and her Olympic
              know how good they are, and those best           withdrawal due to mental stress and
              of the best proved it, including Elaine          the burden of dealing with sexual abuse
              Thomson-Herah, the fastest woman alive           within her sport, inevitably brought

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