MARTIN SAMUEL: Rachael Blackmore is helping to close sport’s gender gap… she’s a pioneer and her Grand National triumph is a nod to a modern way forward in competition between the sexes
- Rachael Blackmore won the Grand National last weekend riding Minella Times
- In doing so she made broke new ground as the first female jockey to win the title
- Blackmore is a pioneer and her successes can help close the gender gap in sport
Pioneers change their environment, the way of the world. Few considered the electric guitar a lead instrument until Charlie Christian was introduced to band leader Benny Goodman in 1939. Now look where we are.
Rachael Blackmore, the jockey, will impact sport the same way. We will look at past certainties and ask: why? We will regard possibilities previously unconsidered and think: why not? Particularly, we will review merging competition for men and women.
There was a time, not long ago, when it was considered unlikely a female rider could survive, let alone thrive, in National Hunt racing. Pretty soon any distinction between the sexes in the saddle will appear obsolete, even incongruous.
Rachael Blackmore’s success can close the gender gap that has long existed across sport
It will not stop there. League Two club Forest Green Rovers are hinting at the appointment of a female coach.
Already, in sports such as darts and snooker, we are beginning to ask why there is distinction at all. Women’s darts, men’s darts? Why the divide? What about the throwing of a dart renders 50 per cent of the population incapable? Only history and tradition is at work here, the fact it has always been this way.
Amber Hill will compete for Great Britain in the shooting at this summer’s Olympics. At a recent World Cup event in India, she recorded the highest score in the qualification event for the women’s skeet, 124/125. It would have been the top score in the men’s skeet, too. Same cartridges, same gun, same event, same day.
Shooting used to be mixed until the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Women were then given their own competitions. With that came greater opportunity to win medals — but perhaps we have moved on from such patronising shallowness in 45 years.
Plainly, a number of sports contain physical advantage. Even one that, at face value, seems unaffected, like archery. Men have longer arms, so longer draw length, and stronger muscles to handle draw weight. This delivers higher arrow speeds and therefore higher scores due to less wind interference.
Blackmore rode Minella Times to victory to become the first female jockey to win the National
Archery’s world records are all higher in the male category. Undoubtedly, there is the need to protect women’s sport where necessary. Only a lunatic would advocate open competition throughout.
Yet Blackmore’s triumph at the Grand National has shown how much more powerful victory can be when no limit is placed on the protagonists. ‘I’d be happy taking on the men,’ says Hill. ‘I’d like to compete against them. But until they let me, I can only say I can beat them.’
No doubt that is what Blackmore thought, too, on the way up. Yet affording her the chance to actually do it will inspire a revolution in her sport. This surely, is the future. Where it can happen, it should happen, and on pure merit, too. That is the modern way.
REAL OPPORTUNITY FOR KLOPP
In February, West Ham lost their best defender, Angelo Ogbonna. Then, last month, when England played Poland, they lost their best midfielder, Declan Rice. A week ago, after 36 minutes of the match against Wolves, the club’s only striker, Michail Antonio, suffered a hamstring injury. Finally, on Sunday, 3-0 up against Leicester, the best full back, Aaron Cresswell, had to go off. Leicester scored. Then the captain, Mark Noble, got injured and was replaced. Leicester scored again.
West Ham, it was said, were hanging on. Wonder why.
So the accumulation of injuries is important. Liverpool know that better than anybody. They might have got away with losing Virgil van Dijk, had they not also lost Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and later Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in the same position.
The news that Lucas Vazquez will be missing from the Real Madrid defence for Wednesday’s Champions League game then, is a window of opportunity. Central defenders Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane were absent from the first leg and Vazquez was already covering for Dani Carvajal at right back.
The biggest advantage — a two-goal lead — is still with Real Madrid but Jurgen Klopp’s side have good strikers against a makeshift defence. Alvaro Odriozola, tipped to replace Vazquez, has started four games all season and has not convinced since leaving Real Sociedad in 2018. Andy Robertson will fancy his chances.
Lucas Vazquez’s absence against Liverpool gives the Reds an opportunity on Wednesday
MADDISON’S FOLLY WILL MAKE UP SOUTHGATE’S MIND OVER EUROS SPOT
Let’s hope the party was worth it, because it is hard to see James Maddison getting back in the England squad after a breach of Covid-19 protocols kept him out of Leicester’s defeat at West Ham.
Gareth Southgate made the trip to London and while Jesse Lingard’s performance made it worth his while, the news that Maddison — plus team-mates Ayoze Perez and Hamza Choudhury — put a jolly-up above Leicester’s drive for the Champions League would be as valuable as any scout’s report.
There was already the 2019 incident when Maddison withdrew from an England squad citing illness, only to then be spotted in a casino. That will have set Southgate worrying whether he was the sort of player that could be trusted if he wasn’t in the starting XI. Now he has the answer.
It is not as if England aren’t blessed with forward midfielders either. Southgate could have been burning the midnight oil deliberating. Now he can get an early night.
James Maddison’s (R) behaviour could be the final straw for England boss Gareth Southgate
PALACE SHOULD NOT SETTLE FOR SAFETY
Roy Hodgson has an aversion to football statistics, even the most basic ones concerning completed passes and possession.
He won’t be greatly bothered that in the first 27 minutes of Crystal Palace’s game with Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel’s men made 170 successful passes in the opposition half, to Palace’s one.
But he should. Numbers like that are why Palace have begun a search for a new manager this season.
It is also not true that Hodgson has done an incredible job at Palace, certainly not lately. With the players available, he’s doing OK. Any club in the bottom half would be delighted to call upon Wilfried Zaha, Cheikhou Kouyate and Eberechi Eze.
Palace aren’t a bad team, but they are unambitious and seem to settle with staying up. Under Hodgson they have become a poor watch and should be better because, when Selhurst Park is full again, their fans will certainly expect it.
Roy Hodgson is doing an OK job at Crystal Palace but the club must not settle for safety
HONOURING CURBISHLEY A REMINDER TO BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Remember when Alan Curbishley had taken Charlton as far as he could? Now they want to name a stand after him.
On May 7, 2006, Curbishley managed his last game as Charlton boss — a 4-0 loss at Manchester United. He lost his last home game, too, against Blackburn. The records show he gave a speech and received a standing ovation, but the mood before his departure wasn’t pleasant. He won a single game in his last eight. He was no longer wanted.
Curbishley finished seventh with Charlton in 2004, but local expectations rose unreasonably. He then got a little money to spend but couldn’t improve on the previous campaign. Charlton finished 11th and 13th. By the end, change was being loudly demanded. Better football, less caution, a fresh approach.
The following season Charlton were relegated and it has been downhill pretty much since.
The club currently sit just outside the play-off places in League One which, by recent standards, is considered a reasonable campaign.
Now the East Stand at The Valley is to be named in Curbishley’s honour. Maybe it should also contain a large sign bearing an old adage: be careful what you wish for.
LEWIS McMANUS’ CHEATING A LESSON FOR THE ECB
With every match now on TV, all instances of cheating and gamesmanship are documented. As a result, football looks, increasingly, as if it is played by charlatans. Yet would any sport stand up to such scrutiny?
The new season of the county championship is days old and already its streaming service has picked up an act of utter brigandage in the match between Leicester and Hampshire.
Leicestershire opener Hassan Azad was given out stumped by Hampshire wicket-keeper Lewis McManus. Yet footage showed McManus took the bails off with his left hand, while holding the ball in his right, claiming a catch.
‘Lewis is pretty down about how it looks,’ said Hampshire’s James Vince. That sounds like a man who is upset at being found out. He should be down that he cheated; the ECB must ensure no one tries it again.
TOON FANS’ OWNERSHIP PLAN IS MERE PIPE DREAM
Newcastle United Supporters Trust is attempting to raise money for a one per cent share in the club.
Its 14,000 members are being asked to contribute in the hope of being part of the boardroom decision-making if a takeover happens.
Considering Newcastle’s sale price to a Saudi Arabian consortium was £300million, this is quite an ambitious project.
One per cent of £300m is £3m. Between 14,000 people that is £214 each. Even if every person regularly attending matches put in £50, that would still leave a shortfall of £500,000.
Newcastle United supporters have launched a bid to buy a small stake in the North East club
The 1892 Pledge aims to buy a share of the club when it’s sold by owner Mike Ashley (pictured)
Equally, there seems distance from the reality of business management.
‘In return for the fans’ financial backing, NUST would like the new owners to allow the Trust to work within the club, either through an executive board position or another role, which can allow the Trust, its members and supporters to influence the club and its direction,’ read a statement. What, for one per cent?
What business person buys 100 per cent, sells off one hundredth unnecessarily, and then lets the controllers of that one per cent dictate policy? Saudi Arabia doesn’t actually need financial backing.
And while there aren’t new owners as yet, if there were — and even if they welcomed fan representation as a gesture of goodwill — they would be mad to accept money, because this would make supporters feel truly entitled to a say in the running of the club. So the owner spends £300m and gets a hard time at board meetings, because somebody who invested 200 quid thinks he owns it.
Alisher Usmanov had 30 per cent of Arsenal and found he couldn’t do a thing in the face of Stan Kroenke’s majority holding. Spend £300m and you get to run the club as you want. Smart owners do not alienate the fan base; but nor do they cede control.
GUARDIOLA DID WHAT HE HAD TO DO
Pep Guardiola did not disrespect the Premier League with the team he sent out against Leeds. He just did what he had to do. He saved some of his most influential players for a very tight match against Borussia Dortmund, he picked a team he thought could beat Leeds. And that’s why managers should not get to decide kick-off times and scheduling.
It is one of the rare balances between the elite and the rest.
With one eye on the Dortmund game, Guardiola had no option but to give Leeds a sniff. Move that, and what else is left?
Pep Guardiola made seven changes for the Leeds game but it was not a sign of disrespect
WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS SNUB NOT BEEB’S FAULT
There has been some disquiet over the BBC decision to show the first two games of the Women’s Six Nations on iPlayer, rather than a mainstream channel. Not least because England’s matches against Scotland and Italy were bumped to show the 1978 film Death on the Nile, and a sixth repeat of an episode of Flog It! from 2014.
Yet do you know what happens at the end of Death on the Nile? No? Well, that’s one advantage over the match between England and Scotland, which concluded with a thoroughly predictable 52-10 scoreline.
The same with Flog It! — never watched it, so at least there is some capacity for surprise. Unlike Italy 3 England 67, in which the victors did not even have to play particularly well.
It is a pity, but the Women’s Six Nations is a series of mismatches until professional England meet semi-professional France. The other teams are amateur and the gulf is too obvious. And yes, when England’s footballers play San Marino, it gets a terrestrial platform. Yet the England players are household names and the game is part of a more competitive qualification process. If England played the equivalent of San Marino in every round, that special status would soon be lost.
Wales shipped 98 points in two games. By contrast, England’s women qualified with a points difference of 106. They have already made the final where they will play, in all likelihood, France. And that fixture will rightly be shown on BBC Two, because it is a genuine contest with a quality the other games do not possess.
Sport does not get its place on your TV screen because it is on; it is shown because it is good. Rather than upbraiding the BBC, upgrading the Six Nations is where the answer to this slight lies.
England’s dominance in the Women’s Six Nations is too predictable to be entertaining
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