STEM gender conference in Cambridge

Those of you among my readers who are based in Cambridge might be interested in the this conference, aiming to discuss women in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths).  It’s being organised by a friend of mine at one of my favourite colleges, Murray Edwards, and I might be in attendance as well!


Playing like a girl

Long-term readers of the blog will know I have often advocated for a greater mixing up of male and female sports players on teams, given the standard deviations for both ‘groups’ are massively overlapping and a considerable number of female (potential and active) sportspeople would comfortably match male counterparts, at least in terms of ability.

In particular, this seems only sensible to do at younger ages, where different growth rates and pre-pubescent childhood really does leave very little to distinguish between those we consider boys and those we classify as girls. If anything, early teenagers usually see taller and stronger girls in their teams than many of the boys.

U10 ACM Comm Games 2015
They all look pretty enthusiastic to me…

That is why it is excellent to see one of the biggest clubs in London football, Arsenal FC, breaking the conventions and entering a team entirely made up of their enthusiastic and skillful U10s girls into a league normally designated for boys. Thanks to my friend MK for forwarding this to me.


The article covers several key areas which highlight the challenges faced by such a team, but also the positive attitudes and outcomes which result from the decision. A parent who expresses concern about the dangers of tackles on the girls becomes one of the main supporters of the initiative, and the girls themselves find that playing against boys starts to “feel normal”, which would seem to be the ultimate success of the move.

Because of the historical greater levels of coaching and support that these boys teams have received, the girls who face them also naturally see their own level advancing faster, as they rise to the challenge. Until recently, the FA explicitly disallowed football matches between people of different sexes, so this represents a major overhaul and one which can only benefit those involved.

Fighting her corner

Many people in the sporting community are derisory about the idea that video games competitions could be classified as a sport (pro gamers, as they are often termed, ardently disagree). Some gamers would also find the idea of being classified as sportspeople horrifying, given the prejudice many face at the hands of sports-minded people, particularly at younger ages.

Wherever you stand on that particular debate, which will no doubt rattle on for a while yet, it seems one particular pro gamer has found a huge amount of support in her pro gamer community, during her transitioning process. As many of the people featured in the video state, the meritocratic and competitive nature of the tournaments, coupled with the emphasis on skill over physique, mean that the main focus is on achieving victory, not the features of the opponent. If only the more traditional ‘sports’ could move more in this direction.

The best candidate?

I recently received a phonecall which offered me an opportunity to make some real change, to work with the sports community in a way which could bring about some positive differences. More on that later. For now, I want to mention one of the primary reasons I was given for being suitable for the role.

Aside from some very kind and flattering comments about my organisational skills, my dedication, and my tractability (they clearly haven’t seen me before 10 a.m.!), I was put forward for the role due to my – I paraphrase here, but only a little – lack of a wife. Of course, this was intended as a lighthearted quip, but as with many such comments there is a significant underlying factor here.

I have seen this played out within the sports community more widely, with players often stating they will play a future match ‘if the wife allows it’, or referencing nagging or chores (as I mentioned in my post on senior cricketers). Of course it’s important to check with your partner about future plans, but the sentiment here relates to a sense that men have fun unless their wives put a stop to it, as if marriage is a limitation of male fun rather

Sport during pregnancy is possible, but challenging, as this writer suggests

than a shared enterprise.

It does also lead me to wonder how many women are able to go out and do sport on a Saturday when their husband does not, rather than both doing it as part of a sporty couple who then co-ordinate childcare. Women who choose to have children are especially affected by this, as their maternity period affects sports more than most activities, and returning after giving birth is especially tough.

In any case, as of next season, I will be in charge of umpiring appointments for my county in hockey. This should allow me to ensure that competitive and important matches receive high-quality umpires regardless of gender, and I will certainly hope to encourage more women to progress in umpiring. Any other thoughts on ways to use this role to aid social progressiveness will be gratefully received!

Rainbow devils?

Those of you who have engaged me in conversation about kickball (more commonly known as football), will know I am as guilty as any other fan of arbitrarily disliking certain teams over others. If you’re especially fortunate, you will have even been exposed to my favourite football joke*, which is particularly unflattering to a certain team – Manchester United. Yet my feelings about them may have just shifted a little.

I was very pleased to see a notification in the most recent Stonewall newsletter, which announced a new partnership between the Premier League side, commonly known as the Red Devils, and the UK’s most prominent LGBT+ charity. This agreement, based around an initiative called Team Pride, aims to help create a more fair and equal sport, which those of you who have read this blog for a while will know is much needed.

*My joke, for the record:

  • Q- Which three football teams in the English leagues have rude words in their names?
  • A – Arsenal, Scunthorpe, and Manchester f***ing United