Category Archives: Soundbite column

When will newspapers stop reducing #Womeninsport to what they wear on a night out?


I was sifting through the Sunday Times sport section this week being, frankly, highly critical. This is an easy stance to take when it comes to newspapers and sport – there is barely any coverage at all of women in sport on their pages, with females accounting for, on average, anywhere from 0% to 5% of content.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, in The Sunday Times, after the usual pages of sport by men, men, men, there was showcased a specific section on women. Okay, I thought, taken aback. I’d rather women in sport weren’t segregated to a separate area, integrated as female sport truly should be into male domains so the join is seamless, but hey, at least it was something, so I read on.

The paper was celebrating the Sports Woman of the Year Awards and one of the articles was about world taekwondo champion, Bianca Walkden. It talked about her achievements, her successes, a big picture of her in her sport kit adorning the bulk of the page. But then there was another photo of her, a shot of her smiling in a black party dress. Huh, I thought, they don’t do those type of shots with the men’s sport articles, but, ever the optimist, I gave the paper the benefit of the doubt until I got to the byline underneath the main shot. It read, and I quote:

Bianca Walkden - World Taekwondo Champion
Bianca Walkden – World Taekwondo Champion

Wonder Woman: Bianca Walkdean is not to be messed with when it comes to taekwondo, at which she is champion, but she is just as happy to look the part for a night out, inset.”

I almost dropped the paper, I swear. What? I mean, what? I had to read this three times before I could believe it was real and not a seedy line in a red top newspaper or some lads mag. Just as happy to look the part on a night out? What is this? Hey, Sunday Times! The 1950s called an they want their era back. Here we have all these amazing sports women who have achieved so much, and, instead of sticking to celebrating this, the Sunday Times choose to reduce Bianca Walkden’s success to how she’s willing to get dolled up. You never, ever see this with men in sport, so why with women?

Here’s the bottom line: women play sport and it has nothing, NOTHING to do with our looks. What we wear on a night out should have no bearing at all to the coverage these amazing, accomplished sports women receive. So, sports editors, when writing about women in sport, ask yourselves, before you publish a piece: Would we treat the men like this? If the answer’s no, then don’t do it. It’s a question the Sunday Times Sports section should have asked itself. It’s a question all media outlets should ask themselves. And maybe then will desperately needed progress finally be made.

Got an opinion? Post your comment below.

#Piggate has forced Cameron to show his true colours


I’m sitting, right now, in a cafe in Stroud and there’s one thing everyone’s talking about: Pig Gate. Everyone’s having a right old laugh. ‘Have you seen this?” one weary old chap says, holding aloft a newspaper. There’s a huge grin on his face. ‘This is the Cameron thing I was telling you about.”

Okay, so Stroud is a bit leftie, well, a LOT, leftie, but here’s the thing: Cameron is showing his true colours. In the week that has brought us revelations from Lord Ashcroft about his former mate’s past (alleged ‘situations’  with pigs, fox-hunting to name but two ‘events’)

UK Prime MInister David Cameron
UK Prime MInister David Cameron 

it has become apparent – like we needed it pointing out – that David Cameron’s facade is an utter lie. Man of the people? Well, it depends what people we are talking about here, and that’s always been the point. Sure, him and Osborne try to depict themselves as ‘one of us’ but no amount of public pasty eating or meeting refugees on the back foot or smiling with babies is going to convince us folk at the coal face that this Tory government has the foggiest about what it’s like to live life where you have to watch what you spend or, heaven forbid, have consideration – true consideration – for others.

Ironic that all this has come to light right after the down to earth Corbyn became Labour leader last week in what was a true breath of fresh air for UK political life. Look, I’m not saying that those of money and traditional privilege don’t or can’t fathom what life is like for others – there are truly amazing people out there from all walks of life. Yet, David Cameron, it seems, has done little to truly empathise with those from different socio economic groups. Sure, he’s been elected again, but on what grounds? It’s just a matter of time before his facade entire washes out, and the old, life-weary bloke at the table in a Stroud cafe starts smirking again to himself  before dropping off some provisions to the local Foodbank.

Got an opinion? Post your comment below.

Parents – don’t let your kids have their phones in their rooms at night!

sbSome things are not rocket science. How to tie shoe laces, for example – easy when you know how, obvious, in fact.  So why, oh diddly why in a recent report, have we discovered that pupils are just too tired to work at school because they have been up half the night on social media?

A study of more than 800 school children in Wales from the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research Data (WISERD) found that one in five between the ages of 12 and 15 wake up on school nights to check social media. And it gets worse. 58% of the 12-13 year olds surveyed said they were too tired for school the next day because they had been checking their devices in the night.

Now, look, I have kids, two girls of 11 and 13 and, naturally, they have phones, and yes, they use them to keep in touch with friends. But – and this is the cruncher – a) they are not allowed yet on social media and crucially, CRUCIALLY, they are not, repeat NOT allowed any devices in their rooms overnight. End of. Because, see,  give a kid a phone, and they’ll look at it. Heck, you give an adult their phone and they’re on it every two sneaky

3 out of 5 children have used a social network by the age of 10, in a survey of 8-10 year olds
3 out of 5 children have used a social network by the age of 10, in a survey of 8-10 year olds

seconds – I am, you are, we all are. That’s why we have to have rules. No phones in the room at night for our children means they won’t look at them – it really is that easy.

So parents, listen up  – you are in charge, you have the veto card here – play it. No phones in the room at night. You know, like a comfy pair of shoes for that long walk home, it makes sense. This ain’t rocket science. It’s just simple, essential parenting.

Got an opinion? Post your comment below.

Why Corbyn needs no spin doctors

sbIntroducing Soundbite – a quick column to-go on the daily news and issues.


The thing about Jeremy Corbyn is that he’s not a media man. If he were Pepsi he’d be Pepsi lite. Nope, scratch that he’d be an organic, pressed elderflower juice with no added sugars. And, see, that’s what I like about Corbyn, that’s what we all seem to like, those on the red side of the political zone – the fact that this man thinks the meaning of ‘spin doctor’ is someone who cures ailments by twizzing you around until you feel sick.

Jeremy Corbyn – new UK Labour Party leader. A man who needs no media.

So why this morning are the politicos calling for Corbyn to ‘get a media team around him.’ Why? That, like wearing a fleece with heels,  would be a catastrophic error, because it is the sheer fact that he has no media spin team, that Corbyn says what he thinks, is a conviction politician, a man of his word, that he won the Labour leadership in the first place. Tony Benn once said there are weather cocks and sign posts for politicians – Jeremy Corbyn is a solid sign post.

Look, if  you’re one of the doubters, if you don’t believe me, if you think Corbyn is having no effect on the masses at all, then listen to this. I was walking through my home town of Stroud yesterday and overheard a group of 17-year-old lads discussing just why they like Corbyn. They said he was ‘a breath of fresh air’ and that he was worth listening to. Now how often do your hear a bunch of young lads discussing politics on the street? Quite.

Corbyn is no spin doctor. He’s just human, a man of his word, a true political sign post. After all the expense scandals and lip service and downright lies of the past, his fresh approach is  just what we need. He’s a normal bloke – and that’s why we damn well like him.

Got an opinion? Post your comment below.

Zumba alone will not help girls into sport

Shopping basket filled with sports related items on white background

Have you seen a boy playing netball recently? When I was at school, there was a clear distinction between the girls and the boys when it came to sport. The lads did football and the girls netball. That was it, no joint games, no change in tradition – you were expected to know where the gender line was drawn.

Fast-forward 15 (okay, 25…) years and it seems nothing has changed. Today, in the Independent Newspaper, Judy Murray, tennis coach and mother to Andy, said that, “Schools could encourage more girls to take up sport by being more sympathetic to the image conscious world that young women grow up in.”

Now, look, I agree with that statement – to a point. Yes, there’s a lot more that could be done to encourage girls into sport, and with real reason. In a survey carried out just last year, for example, it was found that a worrying 40 per cent of 16-year-old girls do no vigorous physical activity at all. But the question is, does providing girls with activities that bow to an image conscious society, help? Isn’t that just like putting a plug in the hole without fixing the hole itself?

Natasha Devon, author and broadcaster, said activities such as Zumba and Yoga should be considered in schools to encourage girls into sport. Now, yes, without doubt, more choice is a good thing, but what would be damaging would be for schools to introduce Zumba but only for the girls, effectively turning Zumba into the new netball, and so would start the whole inactivity, inequality cycle again.

I have two girls and I wouldn’t dream of turning round to them and saying, my dears, girls are expected to not sweat, so best do Zumba. In fact, they tried it once a few years back when they were at Brownies and hated it. But, whether they liked or not is beside the point, because what’s interesting is that the boys in Cub Scouts, boys the same age as my girls, were not offered Zumba at all, and instead played football and running games, activities which were never offered to the girls.

What should be happening is a sea change in how we view young woman and woman in general when it comes to sport. We can get dirty, sweat, stink, play rugby, football, cricket or do Zumba or dance, but we should do it because we want to, not because it fits a pre-defined gender role.

But of course, they only way girls are going to want to do any of these sports is if society gives them a huge, bloody break and gets off their case. The answer? To encourage girls to just be. Be themselves, be strong, be smart, whether that involves getting muddy on a rugby pitch or dancing hip swinging moves to Latin tunes.

Break down the gender demands and not only will we see more girls get involved in sport, but we’ll see more of a change, more of an openness across the genders, too. And then maybe boys can finally start playing netball.


Human kindness is not broken

_85357288_indyBelow is a column I wrote last October. It was in response to the announcement that Iraq and Syria would be part of a targeted assault by joint forces.

I wrote then that it was wrong, the announcement, that people would suffer, that, if it went ahead, the one thing that could break that we all hold true would be human kindness.

At first, when the Daily Mail et al responded recently to the refugee crisis by publishing insulting, awful headlines filled with hate, I thought my 2014 column predictions had come true, but then something changed. People in Europe stood up loud and firm and insisted that we help, insisted that, when we see a dead boy on a beach, a boy -a child – like yours or mine, we don’t turn our backs any more. Instead, we help.

Right now, human kindness does exit. It isn’t broken. And let’s, together, despite governments and wars and endless political power games, as one united global family, make sure it never, ever does.

“Human kindness needs to beat the bomb” – The Gloucestershire Gazette – Column – 16th October, 2014

I’m a pacifist. I don’t like violence, not believing in weapons and fighting as the answer to our problems. In fact, they just make things worse, causing those on the receiving end to fight back, often harder and for years on end, the cycle never breaking.

And so to Iraq and Syria and the recent announcement that we will be part of a targeted assault. Now here’s the thing: pacifist or not, the current situation in these countries is horrendous. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like, as civilian, to live through it all. Men, women and children are displaced, terrible hunger and perpetual fear prevail. And that’s before the terrible laws that seem to be imposed by some on the citizens of these countries, the oppressive regimes that refuse to allow freedom of thought, of movement, of dress, of, well, simply being human. Imagine that happening to us, now, in Gloucestershire. What would we do? Would we want international countries to intervene? The answer would be a definite yes. To walk away, to turn a blind eye to the injustices and atrocities – that would be a crime in itself. In fact, I have to question the minimal intervention so far from the global community concerning Syria. The UN should have stepped in long, long ago.

But the trouble is, bombing is not the answer. You see, the varied problems in Iraq and Syria are caused by fanatics. And, the thing with fanatics is that you cannot rationalise with them – even if that rationalising does come in the shape of a bomb. So, to that end, how can invading with weapons change the fanatical mind? How? The answer is it won’t. In fact, I would argue that it will make the situation worse, that, while in the short terms, yes, it will temporarily halt their terrorising campaign, in the long term it will ingrain the seed of hate towards the the countries involved in the bombings even more. It will, in short, make things worse.

And in the meantime, people are suffering. So, global governments should be more stealth, more intelligent with their actions. Instead of brute force, implement sanctions, put food on the ground, use our secret services to infiltrate the groups and leaders that are causing the evil. Because, what we don’t want to break is the one thing we hold true: human kindness.