Gender equality in sport remains a distant dream

That the members of Muirfield Golf Club voted against admitting female members last week reminds us that the playing field remains far from level.

“Indefensible”. The word used by Nicola Sturgeon to describe the decision by Muirfield Golf Club’s members to vote against admitting female members, and therefore to forgo the right to host The Open, one of the world’s premier sporting events. I’d add to this: bigoted, ignorant, farcical.

Whilst it must be said that the majority of members voted in favour of admitting female members (just not enough to pass the motion), that even the carrot of The Open was not enough to change attitudes reminds us, quite simply, that sexism in sport is alive and well.

Apparently women will play too slowly, and disrupt lunch plans. But don’t worry, they remain ‘very welcome’ to play at the club as guests. Even with the loosest definition of ‘welcome’, that seems hard to believe.

In recent years, many of Scotland’s elite golf clubs have opened their doors to women, and credit must go to The Royal & Ancient for stipulating that a club who does not admit female members should not host The Open in the future. But that this rule will have to come into play is, quite frankly, an outrage.

The commentary around Muirfield’s decision this week reminded me of a wider issue, one that is simply not talked about enough. Even at mixed sports clubs, how often do women get second dibs on access to facilities, coaches, and funds? I have nothing but anecdotal evidence, but my own experience playing a variety of sports at a variety of different levels and in a variety of different environments suggests that this is a problem that runs deep, far too deep.

Women should not be second class citizens, in members-only sports clubs as much as in any other walk of life. Whilst the rules of clubs are decided by their members (as Muirfield made clear last week), this does not mean that we cannot influence change. Other governing bodies must follow the R&A’s example (although few have a carrot so large as The Open to play with). Where public money is being spent, it must be withheld if equal provision for members regardless of gender cannot be clearly demonstrated. And both men and women in grassroots members’ clubs must challenge the status quo where it does not promote equality.  Muirfield has got people talking: now we must use this momentum to drive still much-needed change.

Ali Kyrke-Smith (@wisecrAKS)

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