By Lyndsay Ash
FIRSTLY I know this is possibly the bravest article ever to appear in the JEP but I wrote it on the basis that one should not be intimidated, and in the words of Kipling: ‘If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken …twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.’
I have sat glued to the telly for numerous sporting triumphs: Torville ‘n’ Dean, Dame Mary Peters defying the odds to win Gold in Munich in 1972, Olympic curling into the early hours when Rhona Martin and her team lifted Gold… I remember where I watched Virginia Wade win Wimbledon and where I was when Ben Stokes won England the World Cup. These occasions were reported as ‘a great day for British ice skating’, ‘a great day for Scottish curling’ ‘a great day for British tennis’, ‘Stokes puts England on top of the world’. I was too young to read the papers when we won the World Cup in 1966 but I’m sure it was ‘a great day for English football’. In Mary Peters’s case it was hoped to be ‘an event that unites the community’. Sadly that was a bit too optimistic but it did provide Northern Ireland with a moment of pride away from The Troubles.
The theme in those headlines is there is no mention of sex, as in a person’s gender, not sex as in whether Jane and Chris were more than good partners on the rink. This time, however, it was different, full of ‘empowering the next generation of women footballers’.
In fact, by the time the final came around the word England had pretty much been erased and they had become the Lionesses, with Karen Brady stating ‘Lionesses prove if you want a job done properly, ask a woman’ and the Sports Minister in Jersey arranging a Pound World fanzone to show they were ‘keen to support women’s sport’.
So why has football become this media cause célèbre for women’s rights and why do we not see it in other sports in the same way? When Bromley’s own Emma Raducanu lifted the US Open title it was described as ‘a great win for British tennis’ and the same with Katerina Johnson-Thompson winning Gold at the World Athletic Championships – ‘a great day for her and a boost to British Athletics’, and if there are references to children it was ‘hopefully this will encourage more kids to take up the sport’, NOT ‘this will encourage more girls to take up the sport’. Also, we don’t see fanzones set up for the Netball World Cup, even though it has a huge following in the Island, both in terms of playing and spectating. The same goes for women’s cricket and rugby.
How it became like this and who organised it, I don’t know but I can tell you the date I noticed something odd was happening as to the way women’s football was being promoted…
It was in 2017 and England were involved in Ashes action in Australia. We, as was the custom in the office, had the BBC News on when we came into work and were waiting for the sport for an Ashes update but they started instead with the Scottish Women’s League Cup, where Celtic lost to Hibs 4-1, complete with the goals, from a sparse stadium. Our general consensus was not many people would have any interest in this, so why put it on the national news as the lead story? But being the reasonable person I am I thought I’d put it to the test and told a succession of female co-workers: ‘See that Hibs won the Scottish Women’s League Cup.’ This news was greeted with a succession of puzzled looks, several ‘What?’s and one ‘Who gives a ****, Lash?’
If you think that things have changed since then, I don’t think they have. Despite Sky pumping out results, league tables, live matches and transfer news the knowledge and interest in the women’s game at club level is still very limited. That’s fair enough and if people only wake up when it’s the semi-final or final of a major competition, that’s fair enough as well. After all, it’s the same for many with the men’s World Cup, BUT we were being told a different story. I can give you two examples from the BBC during this tournament. Firstly, for reasons known only to themselves, they decided to ring Denmark on the day we were due to play them and spoke to a variety of bar and restaurant owners asking whether they’d be watching and how many fans they were expecting and receiving answers such as ‘What World Cup?’… ‘Who are we playing?’ … ‘Probably have it on if someone asks’ and the reporter in the studio said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t appear to have grabbed the public in Copenhagen as it has here’. As I drove past empty pubs and then stood in a fairly full Outpatients with two men gazing at the screen and the rest of the occupants chatting or reading magazines, one could see that perhaps the World Cup hysteria back home was a tad exaggerated.
In a separate broadcast one Jersey BBC announcer stated the good thing with the Lionesses winning the Euros was that we all now knew all their names. Pretty sweeping statement – I follow it and could only give about five off the top of my head. In fairness, it doesn’t stop you enjoying the tournament but once again it’s a falsehood put out there to pretend something is true when it’s not and to create a world that doesn’t exist.
It’s important to stress that I have nothing whatsoever against women’s football or the England team, who I thought were magnificent and were tremendous ambassadors for the sport in every way. No, what worries me is the media distorting facts to suit their own agenda and we see it in many other areas. I’ll give you two examples.
Climate change, another media cause célèbre where the truth is slightly distorted. As the excellent Peter Rhodes pointed out, bush fires have been going on for some time before climate change became topical. The media ignore this fact, rushing people out to the next blaze, with the fact that many were started by arsonists a mere sideline, as the BBC’s science boffin paints a picture of Armageddon unless we switch from oils to watercolours. Justified propaganda? Possibly.
The Notting Hill carnival took place a few weeks back. Eight stabbings 308 arrests, including for suspected possession of offensive weapons, assaults on police and sexual offences… This was portrayed as a wonderful carnival of fun by much of the media. Justified in promoting diversity in the community? You tell me.
Maybe there is a case to be made for these all to be acceptable if it meets the goal (football pun there) it is intended to achieve, BUT then it poses another question: who decides what makes a topic acceptable for this treatment and why? That’s what should worry everyone…
Lindsay Ash was Deputy for St Clement between 2018 and 2022, serving as Assistant Treasury and Home Affairs Minister under Chief Minister John Le Fondré. He worked in the City of London for 15 years as a futures broker before moving to Jersey and working in the Island’s finance industry from 2000. Feedback welcome on Twitter @Getonthelash2