‘Sports’, Billie Jean King once observed, ‘are a microcosm of society’. She is perhaps better qualified than almost any one else to comment. Her stellar tennis career, and equally inspirational social advocacy, both coincided with - and helped to define - the drive for change and equality that fuelled the early stages of the women’s movement in the 1960s.
Initially sparked by her searing sense of injustice at being barred from a group photo of junior players at a tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Club in 1955 for wearing the shorts her mother made her instead of the regulation tennis dress traditionally worn by female athletes, Billie Jean’s subsequent fight for equality in both society and sport arguably reached its denouement in 1973. After defeating former leading male professional and self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs in straight sets in the so-called ‘Battle of the Sexes’ (watched at the time by a worldwide TV audience of 90 million and incidentally the subject of a recent, Golden Globe nominated film of the same title starring Emma stone and Steve Carell) Billie Jean observed that ‘I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn't win that match...’
At 77 she still remains an iconic figure and in 2009 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honour, for her continued advocacy work on behalf of women and the LGBTQ community…
Personified by Billie Jean, this symbiotic relationship between women’s sporting history and a wider process of social change is now a key theme within the new Sporting Heritage Education Strategy.
Sporting Heritage https://www.sportingheritage.org.uk is a not-for-profit community interest company working specifically to support and promote a love of sporting history in community and education settings.
The aim of the new Education Strategy is simple. To add value to learning and provide adaptable resources for teachers from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5 that will excite, engage and inspire learners of all ages. Its our intention to achieve this through a range of events, programmes and resources that promote curiosity, enjoyment and fun in the cross curricular study of our sporting past, and what we can learn from it about the future.
The developing resources in relation to women’s sport therefore seek to creatively combine interviews with former athletes, current performers and emergent young athletes with narrative and primary evidence as part of a comparative approach which explores new opportunities, changes and remaining challenges.
They can therefore be used flexibly, either in relation to specific units of the History curriculum exploring continuity, change and turning points, as more generic assembly themes or personal development programme materials with which to explore rights and equalities questions.
To find out more about the strategy please join us live for a free Webinar - ‘Back to the Future – Sporting Heritage’s Education Strategy Explained & Shared’ - on 16 March https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/back-to-the-future-sporting-heritages-new-education-strategy-shared-tickets-141456661683?aff=ebdsoporgprofile. Don’t worry if you can’t make it: the session will also be recorded and available on the Sporting Heritage website.
And as Billie Jean also once said, ‘sport teaches you character... it teaches you about life’.