Last month I enjoyed a session at the Olympic Velodrome in London for a big family event (Daddy Tractor’s 60th) and over the weekend we found ourselves repeatedly returning to the idea of legacy. The following weekend, I went back to the Olympic Park for the London-Surrey 100 mile bike ride, and as I type this I’m just back from a session at the Athletics World Championships in the Olympic Stadium.
All of these events, occasions and opportunities exemplify what I think was and continues to be so great about the London Olympics: there is a real legacy of a regenerated area and incredible sporting moments to be part of. I don’t care that this week The Economist ran a piece essentially arguing that Stratford would have gentrified with or without the Olympics: having the chance to enter these arenas as spectators and participants was exciting and invigorating.
The Sunday of the Velodrome weekend was the Women’s World Cup Final at Lord’s, and a long trip to Southwold for brewery and distillery tours meant we couldn’t really follow the match until the journey home, but again it started me thinking about legacy.
This Women’s World Cup caught the imagination of thousands of spectators. We listened avidly as it looked like India were going to cruise on through to victory, then I kept track through my end-of-party-weekend-car-slumber of Anya Shrubsole’s superb spell to sway the balance of the match.
We got home during the last over and hastily ditched the car to see, live and in glorious technicolour, a famous England victory.
Alas, this was the first day of some infuriating BT-Sky handbags, and our Sky Sports ‘Main Event’ decided this match was not actually worthy of being a main event. At this stage, I could sort of understand, because The Open was ongoing; but during the last men’s Test at The Oval, Sky decided that the ‘main event’ was GAA football. Clearly broadcasting politics means more than sporting interest.
For decades, the argument has been that crowds just don’t like women’s sport as much. The noise from Lord’s for the women’s final proved that line to be comprehensively wrong. I know it was India itself in the final, but if the ECB is so desperate to tap into the South Asian fanbase in the UK, perhaps pushing women’s cricket would be a better path to go down rather than its city franchise idea.
And for all the work the ECB does to push girls’ cricket at club level, which is to be applauded, it’s still going to be a rare girl who sticks at it through her teens when she gets no opportunity to play in school and she watches as her male clubmates (and often teammates at the younger ages) are afforded specialist coaching and support in school PE lessons as well as whatever they get at the club. Shrubsole herself played with the men’s teams as a teenager and her tenacity is inspiring, but daunting for many young women.
It sounds weird to say it, but it was a joy to see how with this Women’s World Cup so many men, especially fathers, were able to commit their support to this game. A couple of years ago I wrote a piece criticising Charles Dagnall and others for their patronising and at times sexist commentary on the women’s game. That genuinely feels like decades ago now: Daggers is informed, respects the women’s game and sells it well.
It feels like, finally, girls’ sport might just start to become about the ongoing journey through schools, clubs, university and beyond rather than just the time-filler that is rounders (however fun the game may be, it goes nowhere after school and there is minimal if any specialist coaching in the sport to actually improve players’ skills).
For the girls and their families whose imaginations were captured by the Women’s World Cup, perhaps there may be a legacy of which everyone involved in the game can be proud.