Historically, the world has assumed several aspects of society to be by ‘male default’ — the world of sport being one of these. Throughout history women have been standing at the sidelines, waiting for their opportunity to come into play. When we use terms such as ‘women’s athletics’, and ‘women’s football’, or even ladies’ tennis, it almost implies that a woman running on the pitch or picking up a racket is something out of the ordinary. After all, we never hear anyone say ‘men’s football’.
Throughout the years, women have worked relentlessly to get rid of the prejudices they have faced throughout their sporting career and change the perception of women in sport. Back in 2019 when media coverage and public interest of women’s sport was beginning to peak, funding was eventually starting to reflect the sporting talents of women.
When the Lionesses played against the unstoppable United States Women’s soccer team in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the evidence of the nation finally taking an interest in women’s football was undeniable. During June 2019, Google search trends around ‘women’s football’ experienced a dramatic spike, proving that the public is keen to engage and watch women in sports.
As with the rest of the industry, the world of women’s sport is currently experiencing a crisis. The hype that was associated with women’s sport last year is being jeopardised by the stand-still that is Covid-19. In further news, women’s sport is facing a longer lockdown period than the likes of men’s sport that is looking to get back on track in the nearer future. Brazil has recently announced that the tournament hosting bid for the Women’s World Cup in 2023 has been withdrawn. In response to this, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson said, “We can’t just rush to get men’s sport back and not think about women’s sport. There has to be a balance and diversity, otherwise some of the strides women have made could be lost”. Speaking further on this, one major UK trailblazer in women’s football, Kelly Smith, argues that the game has been “pushed aside”.
Despite the momentum of women’s sport being threatened, there are numerous sports stars that have taken it into their own hands to protect it. Not only have these women been inspiring fans everywhere over recent years, but they’ve also been unapologetically demanding our attention through raking in even more trophies and addressing the important issues. Luckily, some of the sporting worlds most influential women aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. With this said, we discuss the ones to watch in post-lockdown women’s sport.
1. Megan Rapinoe
Rapinoe’s international success is something worth admiring. Winning six global awards including the 2019 Ballon d’Or Féminin, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Ball, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup All-Star Team, the 2019 FIFA FIFPro Women’s World XI, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Golden Boot, and the 2019 Best FIFA Women’s Player, Rapinoe’s success is on par with the men at the top of men’s football rankings. With this in mind, Rapinoe is a hugely influential sporting athlete, gaining her 2.2 million Instagram followers. Using her huge following to her advantage, she uses her platform for activism, regularly discussing issues such as the gender pay gap in sport, the Black Lives Matter movement, and LGBTQ+ rights.
2. Naomi Osaka
Named by Forbes as the highest-paid female athlete ever, Osaka is an international grand slam champion at the age of 22. At the age of just 20, Osaka achieved the incredible feat of defeating Serena Williams in the final of the US Open. Since then, the Women’s Tennis Association has ranked Osaka as number one and she has gone on to win another two slam titles. Her list of breath-taking achievements continues, as she remains the only player of Haitian or Asian descent to hold the top ranking in singles.
At the age of three, Osaka moved from Japan to New York. In order to represent Japan in the Olympics, she gave up her US citizenship — since this is a choice that Japan requires its athletes to make before the age of 22. Other than her taking the sporting world by storm and engaging in influential sportswear collaborations, she addresses matters such as racism and sexism within the sporting industry- two issues that she has been personally affected by in her sporting career. Similar to Rapinoe, Osaka uses her online community and 1.1 million Instagram followers for social activism and the championing of women in sports.
3. Allyson Felix
All the way from the other side of the pond, Felix is no one-trick pony and is in fact the only American track and field sprinter that competes in the 100m, 200m, and 400m race.
When Allyson Felix achieved her twelfth World Championship gold metal in the Doha World Athletics championships back in 2019, she sent shock waves around the world — even surpassing Usain Bolt’s world record with her twelfth gold medal achievement.
What makes this even more impressive is that she did all of this after giving birth to her daughter in November 2018. After taking on her sponsors over maternity rights, since one planned to pay her 70 per cent less than what they did before she gave birth, it left their contract at a standstill.
4. Dina Asher-Smith
Confirming her position on 2020’s list of most influential sports stars, Dina Asher-Smith is the fastest woman in British history. In 2019, she was named as one of the UK’s most influential people with African, African-Caribbean, and African-American heritage after smashing national records.
After breaking the British 100m record in London, she then went on to break the British 200m and 4x100m relay records at the World Championships in Doha in Qatar. At the rescheduled 2021 Tokyo Olympics, she is certainly one to look out for!
She is an inspiration for young women everywhere as she too came from a park running background in London. Not only has she went from strength to strength throughout her sporting career, she has also achieved a 2:1 History degree at King’s College in London. Dina Asher-Smith has proven to young girls everywhere that they can excel in any way they choose by committing their minds to things. Throughout the world of sport, women have shown power, resilience, and remarkable talent. After battling through diversity numerous times over and inspiring women around the world, these sports stars are sure to bounce right back into action despite the uncertainty that the sports sector is currently faced with.