Clare Balding urged Benenden pupils last night to ‘keep making a noise’ to ensure women’s sport receives the attention it deserves.
The broadcaster and author said the amount of coverage of women’s sport was increasing but said she found it frustrating to see it reduce when the men’s football season begins.
She urged girls at Benenden School – which is renowned for its sporting prowess – to be part of the clamour for permanent change, saying: “I think we are making massive progress and then it comes to a shuddering halt and we need to keep making a noise about it.
“We need to be creating the demand all the time and taking old-fashioned media to task for not doing it.”
Balding argued that outdated perceptions of women’s sport – and of women more generally – were slowly being changed.
She said: “Women’s sport is a very visual representation of women’s strength. Every type of woman and every type of girl is represented in making up a sport team and that’s really important to show that we are all different, that we don’t all come as one unit.
“It shows women being competitive and ambitious and strong, which are all adjectives I know have been used about me in a pejorative way. These should be used in a positive way.”
Balding, one of the UK’s best-loved broadcasters, spoke at Benenden School in a special evening in which she answered questions from pupils and from the event host, Benenden’s Director of Sport Katy Hudson.
The event covered her career highlights and explored her views on everything from her favourite interviewees to the strive for equal pay in sport.
She told girls she does not look at social media if she is covering an event she knows has more than a million viewers, saying: “I don’t need to look to social media for approval or disapproval. I can’t control what other people think of me, I can only control the kind of person I am.”
She said: “Don’t look at it (social media) for the thing that’s missing inside you, find the thing that’s missing inside you and put it right yourself.”
Balding cited several sportspeople she considered inspirational, including sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, swimmer Adam Peaty and tennis player Roger Federer, whom she referred to as “a God”!
In an inspiring message about the importance of determination, she gave the example of Andy Murray.
She said: “Somebody asked him what he does every day and he said ‘I fail’. Essentially his life is about dealing with failure. At a tennis tournament only one person walks away having had a perfect week. Mentally it’s so demanding and he’s a really good lesson in resilience and patience and coping with failure.”
She added: “It’s an amazing thing to be scared and to have self-doubt but still do it. I try to make sure I’m scaring myself with some of the things I say ‘yes’ to.”
During her visit Balding dined with Sixth Formers and posed for pictures with our sports scholars while doing ‘the Mobot’ – the iconic celebration used by Mo Farah – which she is credited with having invented.
Balding is one of the nation’s best-known broadcasters, with highlights including presenting the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, Wimbledon and major events including the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
She is a keen advocate of greater coverage for women’s sport and presented the European Women’s Football Championships.
Headmistress Samantha Price said: “Clare Balding is an exceptional role model for our pupils. Not only is she one of the best-known personalities on British television but she has the natural ability to make everyone around her feel at ease, at the same time as never being afraid to speak out for what she believes.
“It was an absolute delight to welcome Clare to Benenden and our girls learnt an enormous amount from her.”