IT FEELS almost like going to confessional, admitting I’m not a fan of women’s football. In our rather weird political times women’s football seems to have become one of those issues for which there is a pre-set script that you must follow: "Thou shalt like women’s football or be damned."

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that more women play football, my daughter played football, it’s the best game in the world, everyone should play it. But, if I’m honest, I’m not particularly interested in the women’s game, I rarely watch women’s football and I suspect this is the same for most people. And yet, this feels like yet another one of those issues where you are not allowed to say something that most people think.

There is a kind of affirmative action taking place regarding women’s sport in general and women’s football in particular. Listen to any BBC news report and wait for the sports headlines. You’ll find a conscious attempt to shoehorn in a story about women’s sport, despite the relatively limited interest the particular event in question generates amongst the public. You’ll often find major men’s sporting events, watched in person by tens of thousands and by tens or hundreds of millions on television worldwide, receive less news coverage than a women’s football or rugby or cricket game, watched by hardly anybody either live or on TV.

As a panellist on BBC TV’s Debate Night I dared to suggest there was something moralistic about the way we talked about women’s football and noted women themselves are far more interested in the men’s game. Why? Because it is so much better.

Cue, shocked faces, accompanied by a few muffled guffaws. Did he really say that? You’re not allowed to say that! A young man approached me after the debate to shake my hand, still laughing. "You’re a f****** legend mate," he said. I don’t think this lad had a beef about the women’s game, he was simply aware that there is a script one is meant to follow on this question, even if you don’t believe what you are saying – like the Paralympics, you should feign interest.

My party-political fellow Debate Night panellists followed the script. It’s time to have parity in all football; it’s time to raise awareness about the women’s game; the standard is extremely high. Alison Johnstone, the co-leader of the Greens, was particularly outraged, noting with reference to my comments that "you either believe in gender equality or you don’t".

Of course, I do believe in gender equality, which is why I can be honest rather than patronising about the women’s game. Ironically, as an avid golf watcher I suspect I have watched more women’s sport than my fellow panellists. I watch women’s golf because they play at a remarkable standard that 99.999 per cent of men will never play at. They are truly excellent. This simply is not the case with the power and pace-based games like football, where the standard of the women’s game is many divisions below that of men.

There is an artificiality to the celebration of women’s sport in politics and the media. Sitting amongst the many "diversity"-based issues it comes with an unthinking moralism accompanied by patronising head-patting of all things women. But this doesn’t reflect what most women think and want, let alone men.

Take the Women’s Super League in England. The average crowd is just over 1,000 – that’s around 5,000 spectators every week across the league. This compares with approximately 400,000 watching the Premier League each week, 100,000 of which are women. The average crowd for the top of the women’s game in England is on a par with that of the fifth tier of football in the men’s game. The standard is probably even lower. This may change. More women are playing football than ever before. The standard is likely to rise and with it the interest in watching women’s football is also likely to rise. At the moment, however, relatively few people turn up to watch women play. There are some big gates at finals but many of the tickets for these games are free or, in the case of the Athletico Madrid v Barcelona world-record crowd for a women’s game, the tickets that weren’t free cost €5.

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Raising any doubts about the celebration of women’s sports risks being labelled a misogynist. Far better to feign interest, to patronise and to mindlessly bend the knee at the alter of diversity as our politicians appear to do. The problem of course is that the integrity of both our politics and our culture is undermined in the process. If we cannot be open and honest about what we think on this relatively unimportant issue, what other thoughts and ideas are our myopic politicians refusing to raise on wider social policy issues that have a gendered dimension and what impact is this approach having on the vitality of public discourse?

To some extent it feels like a re-run of the 1950s, a time when honest discussions about sex or homosexuality had to take place behind closed doors, amongst close friends when you could trust that nobody else was listening. Except today it is the self-proclaimed progressive set who have become McCarthyites, casually denouncing anyone who dares to question the more beautiful game or raises doubts about women-only shortlists or who see a problem with affirmative action in the arts or on television.

The tragedy is that, just at a time when we genuinely could be treating men and women equally and on their merits, we have become entangled in a disingenuous form of identity politics that creates rather than overcomes divisions, that sets men against women and sees a gender war where there is none. Women, like men, don’t need flattery, they need honesty and openness and an even playing field where excellence can flourish.

Discussing the issue of political correctness last year, Stephen Fry recalled an Oscar Wilde letter regarding the Oxford (or university) manner, by which he meant the "ability to play gracefully with ideas". This, Fry noted, is something that is disappearing from our culture. He’s right and this is no small matter.