"If we can be equals here, we can be equals anywhere"
That's the message that comes loud and clear from Nike's beautifully shot campaign championing equality. Sport, it claims, represents a world where the ball bounces the same for everyone and where people are defined by actions over anything else. This is a commendable move from Nike, especially in such a turbulent political landscape. Yet it feels like there is one glaring omission.
Yes -- sport has done a remarkable job of ignoring race, religion and, more recently, sexuality in bringing top players to the fore. But gender inequality in sport is still rife.
In the UK, women's sports have received just 0.4% of all corporate sports sponsorship. Let's stop and think about that for a moment. For every £1,000 of sponsorship money in UK sport, just £4 is going to women's sports. This statistic is compounded by, and inextricably linked to, the level of media coverage for women's sport. Currently, just 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK is about the women's game. This drops to an even more shocking 2% in newspapers. That certainly doesn't look like equality to me. Far from it. Indeed, even from a participation perspective, there are 1.8m more men doing sport once a week than women. Tennis has been notable in that it pays the same prize fees to female players at its major tournaments but this stands in stark contrast to the viewing figures. According to the BBC, this year's Wimbledon men's final peaked at 13.3 viewers compared to 4.8m in the women's equivalent. This figure is skewed by the presence of Andy Murray but even even in 2015, when he didn't make the final, more than twice as many people tuned in for the men's final than the women's.
Herein lies the major issue facing those pushing for gender equality in sporting arenas. When given the choice of watching a men's or a women's match, the majority of today's viewers will go for the men's game. This then drives the significant gulf in commercial interest.
The good news is there is lots of great work being done to address this issue. The second round of the "This Girl Can" campaign, for example, does a marvellous job of championing women in sport. A buoyant compilation of "Phenomenal Women" throwing themselves into a variety of sports perfectly encapsulates the changing attitude to women's sports. As does the significant media spend that has been put behind it. Similarly, Barbara Slater, the first female head of sport at the BBC, is doing a great job of challenging the status quo in her organisation. Under her stewardship, the BBC is already giving women's sport more like 30% of the sports coverage rather than the 7% mentioned earlier. Progress indeed but there's clearly still a lot to be done.
So here's a thought that could provide an alternative route to parity -- what if we removed the choice altogether? What if when the average punter turned on the television "men's" and "women's" sport were not on separate channels?
Korfball makes this a very real possibility.
It is, as far as I'm aware, the only sport that is mixed-gender by design. As a result, there is always and only gender equality on court. A korfball team is unfailingly composed of four male and four female players and coaches rely on both genders to outplay their counterparts to succeed. Furthermore, anyone who has played the game knows that it is often the team with the stronger female players that ends up winning the game. This creates a sport unlike any other.
Female korfball players know their achievements can never be eclipsed by events in the male version of the game. The pinnacle of the game is the same for everyone regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender. Likewise, the limited media attention that the sport attracts can only ever showcase this utopian image of sporting equality. In essence, Korfball proves that there is an alternative to the current siloed approach to men's and women's sports.
So here's a rallying cry for organisations like Nike, Sport England and the BBC looking to champion gender equality in sport -- why not explore the burgeoning world of mixed-gender sports?
The #KorfballisEquality campaign is gaining momentum but our little-known sport could always do with more support!
Want to know more about korfball? This video should help!