Anna Burnside: Strategy brings out bad sport in me

LADIES! Does exercise make you feel a little, well, unfeminine? Do you worry that while throwing a curling stone, or a left hook, your hormones get all of a flutter, possibly causing some passing knuckle-grazer to question your status as a woman?

Grant said women could do feminine sports such as cheerleading. Picture: Getty
Grant said women could do feminine sports such as cheerleading. Picture: Getty

Does unbecoming perspiration threaten to tarnish your Olympic medals?

If so, help is at hand. Helen Grant, UK government minister for sport, tourism and equalities (because each portfolio is so slight and unimportant that it doesn’t deserve someone’s full attention) has a brilliant solution. Ladylike sports. Ballet, for example. Rollerskating. Cheerleading. She describes this ludicrous Barbie-fit strategy as giving women “what they want”.

What this woman wants, right this very moment, is to put Grant in the ring with Nicola Adams for a full and frank discussion about why women’s sport is underfunded, ignored by mainstream broadcasters and disregarded (with a very few extremely famous exceptions) by blue-chip sponsors. Or to send her out training with some hard-core dames of my acquaintance who think marathons are for part-timers. She can pech along beside them while they hold forth on the toxic culture that we have allowed to fester in this country, where boys are given footballs and girls are given sparkly pom-poms and told not to get their good clothes dirty.

I am of the generation that played (and I use this verb in its loosest sense) hockey and tennis. Occasionally we were forced to run around Anniesland in shorts, or swim in a pool that could have passed for the health club at the Gormenghast Hotel. I loathed, detested and was embarrassingly dreadful at every one of these activities. And while I don’t envy anyone the job of trying to get me out of my leather jacket and into green gym knickers, I do not recall anyone making any great effort to encourage me to stop listening to Joy Division and try out for the team.

Would I have been tempted by, as Grant suggests, a sport with a more alluring outfit? Hell no. Ballet, cheerleading, gymnastics, rollerblading and anything else that involved wearing pink, or a skirt, or a pair of titchy shorts, would have been as offensive to my teenage feminist soul as a Dollar picture disc.

It is just possible that a sport played while scowling, in Dr Marten’s boots, might have raised a flicker of interest. But growing up in the 1970s, sport was for uncool boys and hearty girls. It was something my father watched, endlessly, on our only telly every Saturday afternoon. The idea that I might participate in it, read about it, appreciate it, enjoy it or even notice it, did not occur.

Would female role models have helped me? Unless Siouxsie Sioux had taken up archery, or stuffed her spiky hair into a swimming hat for the 50m freestyle, probably not. But I would have appreciated the option because, outside Wimbledon and the Olympics, they were nowhere to be seen.

No longer. Team GB’s 2012 women have been followed by a parade of inspirational female athletes winning medals in Sochi. So why on earth would we swap that for a pair of rollerskates?

Get angry about death row Scot

MOHAMMAD Ashgar, a Scot, is a frail 70-year-old grandfather who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He recently had a stroke. At the moment he is in jail in Pakistan, facing the death penalty for blasphemy. (He wrote, but did not send, letters in which he claimed to be the Prophet Muhammad.)

Ashgar was sectioned under the mental health act before he left Scotland. His delusions are symptoms of his condition. He has attempted suicide in the past and needs urgent medical, psychological and social care.

So why are Alex Salmond and David Cameron not jumping up and down about this vulnerable citizen, sharing a cell in the notorious Adiala jail, facing a barbarous punishment not used in Pakistan since 2008? Could it be because he is an unphotogenic pensioner of Asian extraction, with a psychiatric ailment rather than, say, a young woman arrested in Peru with cocaine worth £1.5 million in a suitcase?

Melissa Reid (above left) and Michaella Connolly, who eventually pled guilty, were never likely to be sentenced to death. Ashgar, who is guilty only of being ill, needs the same kind of international pressure to make sure the same applies to him.

Hurrah for the Eric Factor

CHEERING to see Simon Cowell manhandling a baby in a car seat along the streets of Manhattan. These are awkward beasts, so respect to the X Factor judge for managing a bottle of water and a mobile phone at the same time. Wrapped up inside was Cowell’s adorable baby son Eric. Long may little Eric continue to be unconcerned by his ludicrous father’s unnatural skin tone, alarming Botox treatments and demanding fitness regime. May he grow a thick skin, to prevent other children sneering at his name and his father’s television shows. And please please please let the paparazzis be present the first time his dad tries to assemble the pram. «