Rachael Blackmore showed extraordinary skill to win Grand National – why are many men threatened by sporting equality?

IF you have ever witnessed the Grand National up close, you will understand.

If you haven’t, then you must. Because there is no experience quite like it in all of sport.

The thundering of the hooves, the thrill of the chase, the awesome size of the racehorses and their obstacles.

If there is a line between immense courage and clinical insanity, it can probably be located at The Chair, or Becher’s Brook.

Watch the Grand National up close and I dare you to doubt the extraordinary will required by any jockey competing in it and the extraordinary skill required to finish it, let alone win it.

So Rachael Blackmore’s victory in the great old steeplechase is the most significant sporting story of the year, because it resonates far beyond racing and far beyond sport.

Those who suggest that any woman involved in elite sport is a ‘token’, or part of a ‘box-ticking exercise’, should go and watch the National and consider how Blackmore won it on Minella Times.

In fact, go and watch any elite National Hunt race, because the 31-year-old Irishwoman also won the Champion Hurdle on her way to becoming the leading jockey at last month’s Cheltenham Festival.

It is better discussed on a psychiatrist’s couch than in a family newspaper as to why many men seem so threatened by gender equality, especially in sport.

But offer praise of an excellent female football pundit such as Karen Carney and they will come at you armed with pitchforks and burning torches.


The levels of hostility are remarkable and should be the subject of therapy.
Do these men have daughters, sisters, mothers and wives?

Do they feel their views are worthless too? Women have competed as equals in equestrian events for decades and there are not many professional sports where this is physically impossible.

Fallon Sherrock winning two matches at the World Darts Championship at the Alexandra Palace was another significant landmark.

The advancement of women in men’s football has been slow since Ron Atkinson declared that they “should be in the kitchen, the discotheque and the boutique, not in football”.

We had imagined that such attitudes were disappearing until the anonymity of social media proved that misogyny is merely the hatred that dare not speak its name.

It helped when Richard Keys and Andy Gray were drummed out of town by Sky Sports for sneering at assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis soon after she began officiating in the Premier League.

A decade on, Massey- Ellis is widely regarded as one of the best in her trade — and certainly far superior to the Stockley Park computers which are threatening its existence.

On Easter Monday, Rebecca Welch became the first woman appointed to referee a Football League match when she took charge of Harrogate versus Port Vale.

The march towards gender equality is painfully slow but utterly inevitable… opposing it is like barking at the moon

Perhaps Welch will reach the top flight. If not, another woman will before long.

Frenchwoman Stephanie Frappart has already refereed in the men’s Champions League and World Cup qualifiers.

When Emma Hayes, the highly rated manager of Chelsea’s women’s team, was talked up as becoming the first female Football League boss, she distanced herself from the vacancy at AFC Wimbledon.

Hayes claimed the Dons could not afford her and said it was an “insult” to the women’s game to consider such a move as a “step up”.

As a newspaperman who loves a good ‘story’, I felt this was a shame. Yet not everyone is desperate to be a trailblazer, not many people enjoy combating extreme hostility and we all have to pay the rent.

Still, a woman will manage a Football League club before long.

She may fail, as most men do in their first managerial job.

It is inevitable, though, that a woman will eventually succeed.

The march towards gender equality is painfully slow but utterly inevitable.

Opposing it is like barking at the moon.

Still, fair play to Hayes for making her point so forcibly.

And it is arguably more important for Hayes to continue helping the women’s game to improve and progress, than to prove herself in men’s football.

Why should your son be able to pursue a lucrative career as a footballer but your daughter should not?

And any arguments claiming that the women’s game does not deserve media coverage above and beyond the number of people who currently pay to watch it, is conveniently forgetting that the FA banned it for half a century, just as women were getting the vote.

That was an historic travesty, worthy of amends.

While some men have a deep-seated hatred of women, many more have more benign, yet lazy, attitudes towards women in sport — attitudes which can be changed.

On Sunday, when Manchester United had a goal ruled out because of a ridiculous over-reaction by Son Heung-min to Scott McTominay brushing his fingers against the Tottenham forward’s face, I heard a member of United’s staff blurt out: “It’s a man’s game, ref.”

It was a knee-jerk reaction, not spoken with malicious intent, but it felt strangely dated on such an historic sporting weekend.

He really ought to go to Aintree next April and ask himself whether National Hunt racing is a ‘man’s game’ too.

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