Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

The credit sequence for the tennis flick Battle of the Sexes has this very British warning: 'Contains occasional scenes of moderate sex.' That just about sums up the story of one's life, really. But if it's only a moderate sex movie, it's a terrific tennis picture. I'd forgotten quite what a tireless and heroic campaigner for women's sport (and pay) Billie Jean King had been. And we have, as they say, come a long way.

But not that far: all the women players in the world's top seven football leagues -- that's Mexico, France, Germany, England, USA, Australia and Sweden -- earn slightly less combined than the Brazilian Neymar at Paris Saint-Germain (under £33 million a year). Though I bet even Billie Jean would probably rather watch PSG than a women's champion-ship match between, say, Lyon and Manchester City, two of the best sides around. So it's all about what people are willing to pay to see -- which is of course the argument that the odious Jack Kramer uses to put down Billie Jean in Battle of the Sexes, and an argument she smashes away.

What is certain is that women's sport is doing better than ever, though ultimately would you rather watch the Ashes or the Women's Ashes? Good for the BBC for its relentless promotion of women's sport, but maybe now dial it down a bit for 2018. Less might sometimes be more.

It promises to be an enthralling Six Nations. England are steadily getting better, though still not the finished article. Scotland are very strong despite having a pool of only about 25 players to pick from. The Irish are famously tough to beat, with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton the best 9-10 combination in Europe, possibly the world. The Lions players are suitably battle-hardened, and the drawn series in New Zealand will have shown them what they are capable of.

The final three minutes of the third Lions Test was the sporting highlight of the year. The drama over the disputed penalty award, later withdrawn, that could have given the All Blacks the game, and the series win, was unbearably tense, and played out in a spirit of total sportsmanship. As the two captains, side by side, watched the sequence on the big screen, Kieran Read turned to Sam Warburton and said, 'This is rugby, mate. …

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