In honour of Mother’s Day and last week’s International Women’s Day, I thought it would be a great opportunity to take a look at some inspirational women throughout sporting history who you may, or may not, know much about. These women have made a huge impact on their respective sport or in some cases multiple sports. They have been pioneers in changing the attitudes of people towards women’s sport and societies attitudes towards women in general.
Billie Jean King
American tennis star Billie Jean King picked up 39 grand slam titles during her career. To put that into perspective, Andy Murray currently has 3, making her undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players of all time. That being said, she is perhaps just as famous for her high profile “battle of the sexes” match against Bobby Riggs. 29-year-old King faced a 55-year-old ex-Wimbledon champion Riggs, who had claimed that the women’s game was so poor in comparison to the men’s game that even a 55 year old could beat the best women’s players. Billie Jean King went on to beat Riggs in straight sets heightening the reputation of women’s tennis all over the globe. It also brought a huge amount of new attention to the sport with an estimated 90 million people from around the world tuning in to watch on television.
She was also one of nine players that formed a breakaway series in order to obtain equal prize money for men and women’s tennis. This breakaway series eventually became the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). The tennis majors are all now equal prize money for men and women.
In addition to all of this King was also an openly gay athlete after being outed by her assistant and is one of the only high profile gay athletes in recent memory. King is a remarkable role model for young girls in sport showing that women’s sport should be regarded just as highly as mens, helping decrease the gender pay gap and also that no matter your sexuality you can still be a champion in your sport.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias
In 1932 Babe competed at the Los Angeles Olympics and won two gold medals for track and field. In addition to being an Olympic champion she became the first and currently only ever woman to qualify for and make the cut in a regular men’s event. She became a champion on the women’s tour and won every accolade available to her. Another incredible athlete who showed that the snobbery of the men’s game was not justified. This attitude was typified in 1948 when her application to play in the US Open was declined as she was informed that the event was intended for men only despite her having previously qualified for men’s events.
Sian Massey-Ellis is the only woman to officiate as an assistant in the Premier League. Being obsessed with football, you become familiar with all the players and even the officials. You know which of them can and can’t be trusted and she definitely can. She is a fantastic assistant and in an industry that is so male focused and with crowds that can sometimes be so hostile. Her ability level has been so impressive that she has slipped seamlessly into the elite game without the blink of an eye and also earned herself an MBE in the process.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Kariman Abuljadayel became the first Saudi woman ever to compete in the 100m. She may have failed to qualify from her heat but gained mass respect by wearing a full body kit and hijab. This is a massive leap forward for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and can hopefully be the start of a more progressive attitude towards women’s sport in her home country and enable women to feel comfortable enough to compete in full body wear, whether that be for cultural or religious reasons. Kariman has set a fantastic example for other women, one which can hopefully be followed in the future.
After winning a gold medal and two bronzes at the 1924 Olympics, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English channel smashing the previous record by 2 hours, eclipsing the times held by all five men to have previously achieved the feat. At the time of the crossing Gertrude was just 19-years-old, taking 14 hours to cross the channel. Ederle is yet another woman who broke gender stereotypes and brought positive attention to women’s sport.
These women are all fantastic role model’s for women aspiring to make an impact in sport and society. Hopefully this time next year there will be plenty more stories just like these that will continue to promote and inspire women.
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