AS a long-time champion of women’s sport and its merits, it’s often hard to gauge just how much progress is being made when it comes to achieving equality with men’s sport.

In general, the disparity remains significant with only a handful of sports or athletes able to boast anything close to equality, but recent years have seen improvements.

Figures released by the Women’s Sport Trust last week showed that television audiences for women’s sport have doubled from 2021 to 2022, with 36.1 million watching between January and July this year, compared to 17.5m for the same period in 2021.

Much of this growth is down to the success of the England women’s football team which, in winning Euro 2022, drew a peak television audience of 17.4m.

Admittedly, excitement about this progress has to be qualified; the study also found that in the same period, only 16 per cent of coverage hours on BBC One, BBC Two, Channel 4, ITV and Sky Sports main event, were dedicated to women’s sport. This is a depressingly low figure.

But the fact so many people watched some women’s sport disproves the argument that the appetite for it is not there.

The coverage needs to be accessible to enable people to watch and so broadcasters realising that showing women’s sport will not repel viewers – as some have suggested – is vital for progress.

There is no greater example of the power of women’s sport, and female athletes, than Serena Williams’ appearance at this year’s US Open. With her retirement – or evolution – away from tennis announced before the tournament began, the clamour for tickets was unprecedented.

And the television coverage of her final match was watched by an average of 4.6m making it the most-watched tennis match, men’s or women’s, in ESPN’s history.

So while there are examples showing the appeal of women’s sport, it remains an uphill battle in terms of media coverage.

Encouragingly, there are more female athletes making the leap into the mainstream. In Scottish terms, even those with only a passing interest in sport, have admired the exploits of Eilish McColgan and Laura Muir this summer.

Similarly, down south, several of the footballers who were part of England’s winning team at the Women’s Euros are now household names.

The value of this cannot be overstated. When I was growing up and trying to forge my way in sport, female role models were limited to Sally Gunnell and a few others.

These days, there are far more female athletes for young girls to look up to, in a much wider variety of sports.

The saying “you can’t be it if you can’t see it” is oft repeated but that’s because it’s true. For young girls to be able to switch on the television and see women’s sport as a matter of course is invaluable.

Numerous young, black American women have talked about the importance of having someone who looked like them, in the shape of Serena Williams, at the forefront of their sport.

The same applies in Britain, with the impact of having women’s sport regularly televised one of the most important factors when it comes to showing girls what they can aspire to.

More women’s sport on television will help to erode the myth that it lags behind men’s sport in terms of quality and excitement; that’s just not true.

The more people watch it, the sooner this will be realised.


Things have been quiet on the doping front in recent months in the elite sporting world but there is a court case going on in America that could prove seismic in the battle for clean sport.

Eric Lira, who was arrested in January for distributing performance-enhancing drugs including human growth hormone to athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, faces a prison term of up to 10 years as well as fines of up to $1 million if convicted.

He is fighting his case, arguing that the law under which he was arrested is unconstitutional in a bid to persuade a judge to dismiss the charges. If he loses his bid and then found guilty and imprisoned, it will be a turning point in anti-doping.

Currently, a considerable number of those within the underworld of doping feel the risk of becoming involved in these shady affairs is worth it because the punishments that can be meted out are not sufficient deterrents.

However, if jail time is brought into the equation, things will almost certainly start to change.

As things stand, only a select few countries, France being the most high profile, treat doping as a criminal matter.

But it’s clear that the punishments elsewhere, which amount to little more than a ban, either temporary or permanent, from sport, is doing little to discourage those tempted to dope, or enable doping.

America remains the biggest player in sport and if they start criminally convicting and imprisoning people, it will send out an important warning to others that the punishment they face for being involved in doping will be severe.