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Do female sport stars from the region still feel overlooked?

PUBLISHED: 08:51 28 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:51 28 November 2017

Norfolk United Netball Club play in Mizuno Premier League 3. Picture Jonathan Webb.

Norfolk United Netball Club play in Mizuno Premier League 3. Picture Jonathan Webb.

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Television viewing figures show there is mounting interest in women’s sport but reporter Jessica Long discovers that there is still room for improvement.

Flo Allen (in red) playing for Bristol City against Reading. Picture JMPUK. Flo Allen (in red) playing for Bristol City against Reading. Picture JMPUK.

Nine and a half million – that is the number of people who tuned into watch Great Britain’s hockey team win gold at the Rio Olympics.

And earlier this year a record four million fans watched the England Lionesses crash out of Euro 2017 and more than seven million people saw Johanna Konta’s victory over Simona Halep this summer - a record for a ladies’ match at Wimbledon.

These ratings show there is a interest in the country’s best sportswomen but at a local and national level there is still a feeling women’s sport is underexposed and misrepresented.

Despite more than seven million women taking part in sport each week, it only makes up a small percentage of coverage in the media.

Norfolk United Netball Club Premier team captain Amber Dunne. Picture Jonathan Webb Norfolk United Netball Club Premier team captain Amber Dunne. Picture Jonathan Webb

And although some top level teams are becoming more well known but locally there are teams playing at a national level which some people may be unaware of.

One of those is Norfolk United Netball Club.

It is home to more than 400 players and its first team plays in the Mizuno Premier League 3, travelling to the likes of Jersey for matches, but captain Amber Dunne said each season they struggle to get sponsorship to cover expenses.

“As there is so little publicity about netball even at a national level let alone at the level we are at now it’s difficult to seek new sponsors as they think of netball as this kid high school sport,” she said. “If you look at the type of sponsorship lower-league football teams get even they have places like McDonalds sponsoring them. We don’t have anything on that scale.”

Norfolk United Netball Club play in Mizuno Premier League 3. Picture Jonathan Webb Norfolk United Netball Club play in Mizuno Premier League 3. Picture Jonathan Webb

Sky Sports now shows the Vitality Netball Superleague, the top league in the country, and England internationals. Dunne said this is helping the game.

“The younger generation have got a better understanding of the level played just from what they learn at school and from what they see on television,” she said. “It’s more the older generation who don’t recognise it as a competitive adult sport but with the games on telly, it does make a massive difference.”

But the media and corporate sponsors are not the only ones responsible for the lack of exposure, that is the view of Dr Sanna Inthorn, a lecturer in media at the University of East Anglia.

“I think there needs to be an attitude change at a grassroots and social level as I think the media can’t change society,” she said. “The media inform how we see the world but we keep perpetuating gender types ourselves so we can’t blame the media entirely for how we see women in sport. The education system needs to change and that is a key thing.”

One person who has seen a change in the support of women’s sport in recent years is Bristol City footballer Flo Allen.

The 18-year-old, from Hempnall, has a professional contract, something she would never have imagined when she started playing football at the age of six for Mulbarton Wanderers, and believes the game can only get bigger.

“The strides the women’s game has taken in the last few years is unbelievable,” she said. “Even just the attendances at the Women’s Super League (WSL) games have risen quite considerably and the audiences watching the women’s senior England team play is growing.

“It can only get better really and the more exposure the game gets I think the more the audience will grow.”

Allen, who has represented England at a World Cup, moved to Bristol after Norwich City Centre of Excellence lost its licence and said it was necessary to play at the level she wanted to.

“The Norwich Ladies team are doing really well but Bristol are doing well in the WSL 1 and that is the top league and the place everyone wants to get to,” she said.

It is hoped with big promotional exercises, such as the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, women’s sport will continue to grow.

Dr Inthorn added: “There is more awareness that we need to be reflecting on gender equality in sport and there is a shift towards more equality.”

7 teams from Norfolk and Waveney to follow

• Norwich City Ladies - FA Women’s Premier Div 1 South East Division

• Harleston Magpies - Investec Conference East Women’s Hockey League

• Norfolk United Netball - Mizuno Premier League 3

• Norfolk Ladies First XI Cricket - Royal London Women’s County One-Day Championship and NatWest Women’s County T20 - Division 3 - Group D

• Wymondham Wasps Ladies - Championship Midlands 2 Ladies Rugby Union

• Acle United - Eastern Regions Women’s Football Premier Division

• Norwich Spikers (Volleyball) - Women’s Division 3 Central

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