Rise in interest from Emma Raducanu and Women's Super League is good for the future of female sport

THE Covid pandemic disproportionately affected women more than men.

Women had higher job losses, lower wages and increased responsibilities juggling careers with their children’s education but we have scored one small victory: Sport was given a boost for women that might otherwise have taken many years.

While millions of sport fans were frustrated at being unable to watch their teams in grounds, TV filled the gap with live, round-the-week screenings.

Before then, women’s football was occasionally taken out of its hidey-hole but attracted minimum male interest.

Now, both sexes were seduced by female competitors of perhaps surprising virtuosity.

Though the overall standard is considered by some to be less compelling than the men’s game, we have the inherent skills and means to deliver entertainment.

More, we don’t usually spit, rarely deliberately clog opponents and keep our elbows to ourselves (except in sales queues).

So, interest in women’s sport exploded and suddenly we had hits in the TV charts.

And with the relaxation in Covid restrictions, this has been translated spectacularly in the number of spectators, greater involvement of the leading clubs, bigger business, more sponsorships, greater media coverage and business possibilities.

The increase in pay and the standard of football has attracted a number of high-class foreign players and in many ways the Women’s Super League has shadowed the Premier League to become a world favourite.

Our game was in a strategic place to take advantage of the TV gush that became a mild antidote to the horrors of the pandemic.

Since the FA changed their 50-year misogynistic stance and took the women’s game to their bosom, progress has been fast.

This possibility had long been there. On Boxing Day 1920, 53,000 watched a women’s match at Goodison Park — with another 10,000 locked out.

And then, theorising that the game was “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”, the FA banned women from playing on Football League grounds the next year.

Relief came in 1969 when the Women’s FA was formed on the strength of the whole population’s involvement in England’s 1966 World Cup triumph.

Then the seed of the soccer sorcery flowered with the introduction of the WSL in 2011.

All-professional in 2018, the 11-team WSL was cashing in strong links with leading clubs and our leagues prospered from greater exposure just as cricket did through The Hundred, in which a double-header of the women’s competition preceding the men’s was hugely popular.

Another Wonder Woman emerged with Emma Raducanu’s extraordinary capture of the US Open title at the age of 18 and without dropping a set, a breath-taking positive for Britain.

Follow that with Lucy Bronze, Ellen White and the other England stars who yearn to win the World Cup as the dominance of North America is increasingly challenged.

The rewards are good and growing. BBC and Sky have signed huge, live TV contracts.

Uefa’s prize money for the European Super League is now £24million and the group-stage winners will get £341,000 — five times the previous figure.

Today, football is truly a career for women athletes.

Tomorrow? I can see it challenging the men’s game.

Not everyone will be Jolie

JUBILANT scenes around St James’ Park on Thursday night after the announcement that Mike Ashley had left the club after 14 years as owner.

I am sure he was just as jubilant as the supporters to be out of there.

Because what he hoped would be a love affair between them on the scale of Romeo and Juliet ended up as irreconcilable a split as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s, with both parties happy to see the back of each other.

Supporters interviewed about their view on the new owner being Saudi, with their — how shall we put it kindly? — dubious moral dilemmas, said this was an issue for another day.

I suspect seeing off Ashley and welcoming an owner with a £320billion fortune may mean that day never comes for them.

But what the rest of the Premier League, the football authorities and the Crouch review will make of it . . . well, that day will come, I’m sure of it.

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