Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi this week, with Russian premier Vladimir Putin declaring them open at a majestic ceremony on Friday. The Games cost £30 billion, making them the most expensive in history, and a large part of Friday’s Opening Ceremony was designed to show how Russia has moved into the modern age.

Yet the country’s social conservativism, particularly when it comes to gay rights, continues to be a source of anger and controversy as the Winter Olympics begin in earnest. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach used his address to the stadium in Sochi to celebrate The Games as an embrace of “human diversity and unity”, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon also condemned Russia’s record. Putin’s speech to the crowd was in the end notable for its brevity, although a section of the ceremony designed around the theme of traditional marriage was seen by some as a show of defiance.

In June of last year Russia’s government introduced laws limiting so-called “propaganda” about homosexuality – supposedly to “protect minors” from exposure – and they have persistently condoned anti-LGBT statements by public officials while banning and breaking up gay pride events. American firm AT&T, who are sponsoring the Winter Olympics, have condemned Russia’s human rights record, but other sponsors – including McDonalds, Visa and Coca-Cola – have thus far refused to follow suit. Michael Cashman MEP, my friend and colleague at the European Parliament and a lifetime campaigner on gay rights, took the radical step of cutting up his Visa card in Strasbourg last week, in protest at this. It was a bold step, showing the strength of his feeling on the issue, and was one which I fully support.

I wish all the UK’s athletes the very best of luck at the Winter Olympics. I hope we’ll see a wonderful competition and a fantastic spectacle, and that in the long term the event will serve to highlight the treatment LBGT people are still subjected to in Russia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, yet another rainy week saw The Thames reach its highest level ever, putting at risk an unprecedented number of homes to the west of London and in Kent. COBRA met regularly throughout the week, and by Sunday the Environment Agency had 175 flood warnings in place across the UK, and the Ministry of Defence had drafted in military personnel to provide support for communities.

As the flooding continued some looked to make political capital out of the situation, with David Cameron suggesting on Friday that “the pause in dredging that took place in the late 90s” was to blame. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles criticised former Labour Minister and head of the Environment Agency Chris Smith, accusing them of lacking humanity and expertise. To give him a modicum of credit, Pickles refused to stoop as low as Ukip, who used the crisis as a means of attacking Britain’s International Aid commitments – “Charity begins at home,” as Nigel Farage put it – yet Pickles’ attack still rankles many trying to deal with the problem at the sharp end. In his response, written for The Guardian, Smith said, “I’ve never in my life seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces”.

With much of the flooding happening close to my own constituency in London, I wish the very best to the people who have been affected. I hope, as the weather gets worse this week, that those in charge start pulling together to help those who are suffering. Chris Smith was 100% right – this is not the time for playing politics.

Womens’s football

Labour Party

Most footballers can only ever dream of scoring the winning goal against Brazil at Wembley and certainly not at an Olympic Games.

However, this is precisely what England’s Women’s Player of the Year did – almost certainly to the envy of many of her male counterparts.

It was some achievement for the twenty-four year old Steph Houghton who subsequently became the poster girl of English women’s football when she was awarded Women’s Player of the Year earlier this month.

Despite this accolade she earns less in a year than Wayne Rooney earns in a day. The annual salary for a top female player is £20,000 per year. Wages for women footballers are so low they are permitted to take on a second job of up to 24 hours a week. Wayne Rooney earns £26,000 a day. Can you imagine the response if one of Alex Ferguson’s star players turned up late for training because he’d finished his second job late? No, neither can I. The disparity in footballers’ wages is quite shocking – I understand that premier league football generates significant revenue through sponsorship but I also find it depressing that a male footballer at the top of his game earns in a day what a top female footballer will earn in a year.

I’ve said before that a significant part of the Olympic legacy must be to encourage more women to participate and compete in sport. And women such as Steph Houghton have become an important champion to make this happen.

The Football Association still has a significant amount of work to do in this area; while it celebrates its 150th anniversary, it only started to run women’s football 20 years ago.

However, there is hope that the FA is beginning to take women’s football more seriously – it has committed to invest £3.5 million over the next four years with the aim to make the women’s game the second largest team sport by 2018 (overtaking men’s rugby and cricket).

It is only if other sports make similar commitments that we will see a generation of capable women smashing new records.

Britain’s (Anguilla’s) Olympic Hopefuls – Shara Proctor

Labour Party

Shara Proctor has gone on an unsual journey to be part of the British Olympics team as the only woman to qualify for long jump for London 2012.

Shara was born and raised in Anguilla, a very small island in the Caribbean with a population of 13,600 people. Anguilla is too small to have its own Olympic Committee so is therefore ineligible to enter a team for the Olympic Games itself, but its citizens are eligible for British Citizenship.

Shara leapt at (excuse the pun) the opportunity to claim her British citizenship when the chance to compete for the British team presented itself.

Shara’s family background is political rather than sporting, with her mother being, rather fittingly, the current Anguillan minister for sport, and her rather a retired permanent secretary for education.

Shara started her athletics career as a sprinter but turned to long jump because, even on an island as small asAnguilla, there were two other women who were faster than her.  She said recently that she had to make the switch because she simply hated losing; a promising quality for Team GB.

Shara’s lifetime best is 6.71 meters and her season’s best is 6.68m, putting her at the very top of the British rankings. She says she is “jumping big” in training and has set a target of 6.9m this year, which would put her well into medal territory at world and Olympic level.

In recent interviews Shara has said that if she wins a medal for Team GB, in her heart it will be for her home country of Anguilla.  I’m sure none of the cheering on lookers from Britain will mind this one bit, if we can see a medal in a category where we haven’t won once since the subject yesterday’s profile, Mary Rand.

Great British Women Olympians – Denise Lewis

Labour Party

It is now only 23 weeks until the opening of the London Olympics and the consequent Paralympics.

In the run up to the games I have decided to take a look at some of the British women who have achieved past successes and who are tipped for success in the summer. It is clear when the BBC think that “lads mags” such as Zoo and Nuts have serious coverage of sport that British sports reporting still fails to cover sport properly. One way for women to challenge this is to write more about sport.

Each weekend I will present a duo of sportswomen from the same sporting event. One from the past and one who has been chosen to represent Great Britain in London 2012.

Denise Lewis OBE – Heptathlon

In 2000 Denise Lewis brought home a gold medal for Great  Britain from the Sydney Games competing in the heptathlon. This success was achieved despite suffering from an injury to her Achilles tendon.

Denise began competing in the heptathlon in 1989. Eleven years later, at a meet in Talence, France, she broke the British heptathlon record with a score of 6831. This record has not yet been broken.

Denise’s athletic achievements were recognised in 2001 when she was presented with an OBE. In 2011 Denise was inducted into the UK athletics hall of fame.

The heptathlon is a series of events in which competitors compete against each other in 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin throw and 800m.

As well as her gold medal in Sydney, Denise also won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Games and gold medals at two consecutive Commonwealth Games in 1994 and 1998. She has also won numerous medals at international and European athletics meets.

Shortly after the birth of her first child in 2002, Denise entered a particularly turbulent period of her career.  Her links with controversial technical coach Dr Ekkart Arbeit, accused of doping atheletes in the 1970s, led to her receiving a barrage of hostile media coverage.

She retired from athletics in June 2005. Since then, Denise has gone on to have a second successful career as a BBC sports pundit and appeared on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2004.

Since 2009 Denise has been an International Inspiration Ambassador. Denise uses her great sporting legacy to inspire youngsters to take part in sport and physical activity around the world.

Denise was born in West Bromwich in 1972 and was brought up inWolverhampton. She has said that she was inspired to become an athlete whilst watching the 1980 Moscow Olympics on the TV as a child.