By Liberty Simons
Progression wasn’t just being part of the 60,063 strong crowd as Arsenal took on Wolfsburg at the Emirates after selling the place out for the first time in their history. Nor was it watching Matilda’s fans break Australian attendance records at the Women’s World Cup. Or watching the Roses reach the Netball World Cup finals for the first time. It was in the smaller moments. It was in taking my lifelong Gooner Grandpa to his first Women’s North London Derby. It was when he accidentally called Vivianne Miedema ‘quite good’ not realising the scope of a player that she was. Or when I went to visit my grandparents and we had a 30-minute discussion about whether Alessia Russo would be joining the Arsenal. Or texting various family members and friends to tell them how they can watch the women’s games. Progression in sport is often seen as the record-breakers. The things that are written into the record books to be an example for others. Or in the massive events, in the trophies and attendance breakers and the biggest names to be remembered forever. But the truth is progression is in the normalcy of women’s sport.
Normalcy isn’t boring. It’s actually probably the most exciting part of sports. It’s the bit that keeps you coming back for more, the foundations of the sports we love. The big events and record signings are fun, but the everyday events are the big things that make sports progressive. It’s in Royal Holloway having to open more teams in Women’s Football because too many people want to take part. It’s in more women joining the male dominated sports, like motorsport and rugby. It’s in all sports being given the same attention, appreciation, and support as one another within their environments, allowing them to flourish and shine to their highest abilities. Leah Williamson often says the Lionesses won the Euros and stand on the shoulders of those that didn’t get the prime spot-on ITV. It’s true. But progression lies in making sure those spots are open to a range of sports and athletes. Those before us broke down the barriers and doors to a world that was otherwise unobtainable. It’s us keeping the doors wide open that keeps it progressing.
It’s easy to see the growth of women’s sports globally in the past few years and think it’s an accident. But when we look back and think of those who set the tone, who were the first history makers in their individual fields, the more we see that this has been brewing for a long time and finally the tea is ready to drink. We can look and see the likes of Billie Jean King, Rachel Yankey and Beth Twindle as inspiration, as the trendsetters. Their work may have changed the game and set us in motion, but it wasn’t the overt progression it may seem like. Progression is seeing professionalism of women’s sport being opened up. It’s in Iga Şwiątek spending 70 weeks as whole number one, at 22 years old. Or Michelle Agyemang being adored by Arsenal fans in the same vein as Bukayo Saka at 17 years old. Or in the Gadirova twins setting the world of gymnastics alight at just 19. It’s in how normal this is. How it’s celebrated as the normal and given the same attention and respect as their male counterparts. It’s in small clubs, not the big flashy names, starting a women’s side because they think their fans deserve it. It’s in Bianca Bustamante signing for the McLaren’s development team, to make way for the future of women in F1.
Whilst it is extraordinary to be part of record-breaking crowds, and progression may be present in those moments, this isn’t the only place it is found. The progression of women’s sport is in its consistency, across the seasons. It’s in getting those people back to a ‘regular game’. Or bridging the gap even further. Because women’s sports may be rife with inequality and prejudice from misogynists, but that won’t hold it back. Progression may have started with the Battle of the Sexes, but the normalcy of seeing Iga Şwiątek fighting for the number one spot again will keep it moving.