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Action Replay: Some Are More Equal

On International Women’s Day the Guardian provided a list of the ‘50 most influential women in British sport’, who were supposedly ‘leading the battle for equality’.

The list was a very mixed bag, and the paper admitted that it was all pretty subjective. Top of the list was the ‘leading lady of British sport’, Debbie Jevans, CEO of England Rugby and former boss of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. She used to be a professional tennis-player, and a number of the executives and administrators listed were former athletes themselves. Those still active in sport included swimmer Ellie Simmonds and Jessica Ennis-Hill (who’s now a millionaire).

The list featured broadcasters such as Clare Balding and Jacqui Oatley (‘the first woman to commentate on Match of the Day’), media figures such as various sports editors, a football referee, and politicians such as Helen Grant and Tessa Jowell. A number are vocal supporters of greater involvement by women at the top of sport, with Jevans for one calling for quotas.

But step back a bit and think about what it all means. You might expect top athletes to be influential and act as role models (like film stars and singers). But why should there be powerful people, whether men or women, who are in a position to decide what happens to so many others? Decisions about funding, involving sanctions and incentives, inevitably help to determine developments, at both elite levels and the ‘grass roots’. Careers in sports admin often require a degree in business or marketing, for that after all is what running sport is really about.

Just as a tiny minority of capitalists rule society as a whole, so a small number of people exercise enormous power in professional and amateur sport. Whether part of the media or the sporting or political establishment, they wield influence that affects the lives of others in myriad ways. And, despite what the Guardian says, this has little to do with equality.

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