After a busy few weeks preparing for and participating in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, Great Britain and England midfielder Susannah Townsend was on hand to watch another sporting showcase as she witnessed the English domestic finals for women’s rugby union. This experience made her think about the progress being made in her sport ahead of this summer’s Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018.
“After the Commonwealth Games I treated myself to a very lazy holiday in Thailand which I feel will do me the world of good leading into the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018. With my phone locked away in the safe I enjoyed taking time away and mentally and physically resting.
I am going to touch on my experiences within hockey and other sports and how they compare.. I must emphasise that what I am about to talk about is very much my own opinion and is something I have been thinking about writing for a long time, so here goes…
The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games was the third major sporting event I have been to that had parity between men and women in all sports. There wasn’t a big deal made about this, because quite rightly, it should just be a fact of life.
I see this as the a testament to the legacy of change of empowering women, going back to tennis star Billie-Jean King and more recently Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams and former Great Britain and England hockey captain Kate Richardson-Walsh. What they and many more women continue to do in a strong manner, has shown the world how to treat and portray women playing sport and that it isn’t in any way inferior to men’s sport.
Imagine my disappointment then when on my first weekend home, I discovered that this new normal hadn’t followed me back to the UK. I had tickets for the women’s Tyrells’s Premiership Rugby 15’s Finals.
This was a big deal; these 60 athletes representing the two finalists work full-time and train every day. They balance jobs and families with their rugby commitments and inspire young boys and girls to get onto a rugby pitch.
While the female players in the top teams receive more support than other clubs, this is still a good way off from the male players who are full-time, well-paid athletes.
Funding and club support for the elite women players will come soon and these things take time but what was disappointing was that this grand final was hosted at a local club ground rather than at a stadium. The fans were squeezed in and there were hardly any seats and no big screens to watch replays of pivotal moments.
It is certainly not showcasing rugby to a wider community to the degree that it could be. And I can vouch for the high quality of the match – this was anything but a shallow imitation of the men’s game - it was rugby at its best.
Like any international athlete I want to play in the best stadiums in the world and I can only imagine rugby players at international and club levels feel the same.
Although disappointing to witness the experience has left me feeling proud of the sport I play. At the England Hockey League Finals on the same weekend, the men’s and women’s matches were played alongside each other creating a fun day out and encouraging the men’s and women’s teams to support each other. This is very normal in our sport.
At the big international events I have had the honour of playing in, the men’s and women’s events get equal billing. We get equal broadcast coverage, we get equal access to top rate facilities. This is true at European, Commonwealth, Olympic and World Cup level. In London, in just under 80 day’s time, I know that women’s hockey will be given the same stature and support as the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, which takes place later in the year.
As hockey players, we are all equal and I feel very proud to play a sport that showcases that. I hope other sports can take note and learn from hockey’s example and would encourage fans of all other sports to come along to the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 to witness our ‘Equally Amazing’ sport live.”