When Andy Murray met Caroline Weir

British tennis legend Andy Murray has been lauded for his views on equal rights for women in sport.

The former world number one men’s singles champion has always been an advocate of equal pay for female sportspeople and openly criticises sexist behaviour.

When he founded his own sports marketing agency, 77 Sports Management Services; as a direct result of his outspoken views on incidents of inequality, he almost immediately attracted his first female footballer – Scotland and Manchester City’s Caroline Weir.

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Weir, a 25-year-old forward, from Dunfermline, joined Manchester City women’s team in June 2018. She has also represented Scotland at all youth levels and has made 77 appearances for the Scotland Women’s A Squad.

Admitting she was signing up for her fellow Scot’s new sports agency because of his principles, in a recent interview, Weir said he had a track record that spoke for itself, explaining, “He stands for equality and women’s rights.”

New business venture

Murray, 34, from Glasgow, was ranked world number one for 41 weeks by the Association of Tennis Professionals in 2016. He has won three Grand Slam singles titles including two Wimbledon championships; and the men’s singles gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, where he beat Roger Federer.

However, he has been battling injuries in recent years and his world ranking has dropped to 123rd, as a result of long layoffs while recuperating. With the aim of being fit in time for Wimbledon, he is planning on making his comeback at the Nottingham Open in early June.

While recovering from recent surgeries, he has also branched out into marketing and management for sportspeople, launching his company with business advisers Gawain Davies and Matt Gentry. The services include a performance team, led by Murray, to analyse and improve the client’s performance and advise on nutrition, conditioning, strength, technology, psychology and health. It also offers a service to manage their social media platforms, provide admin support and offer financial, legal and accounting advice.

First meeting

When Andy Murray met Caroline Weir, the professional footballer had already decided this was the right move. They met for the first time in 2020 at Wimbledon Golf Club, where they were announcing their new partnership for an article in Telegraph Women’s Sport.

Both major players in Scottish sport, they spoke about their new business partnership. Murray is keen to emphasise his goal to represent more female sports players, raise their profile and ensure they have equal rights and pay to their male counterparts.

Murray’s passionate stance against sexism stems from his youth. His mother, Judy, a tennis coach, has been the target of sexism when supporting her two sons on the tennis circuit.

Female coach backlash

In 2014, when Andy hired former world number one tennis champion Amelie Mauresmo as his coach, he was surprised at the backlash from fellow players. He said hiring a woman wasn’t something he had given much thought to. He just wanted a good coach. However, people on the tennis circuit continually questioned his choice.

He noticed that when he lost, people often asked if he was sure she was the “right person for the job”. When he had a male coach, the blame was always pointed at Murray himself. He was disgusted when a fellow player told him scathingly that he might as well appoint a dog if he was going to appoint a female coach! Murray said the whole experience left a bitter taste when it came to sexism in the sports industry. It also opened up new conversations with his mother on her own experiences of gender inequality.

Still frustrated that it is rife, Murray has made many public comments about sexism. In 2017, he was exasperated when a journalist omitted the legendary US player, Serena Williams, 23 times Grand Slam champion, from statistics. He corrected the journalist on this glaring error.

Female footballer “twerk” insult

He was also angry when the Norwegian footballer and Champions League winner Ada Hegerberg, on being awarded the first women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, was asked to twerk on stage by DJ Martin Solveig.

As she prepared to give her acceptance speech, her big moment was ruined by Solveig’s inappropriate question, which was in stark contrast to the earlier presentation of the men’s trophy to Croatian footballer Luka Modrić. He was treated with reverence and respect when he accepted his award.

With a cold smile, Hegerberg said “no”, turned away and prepared to leave the stage at the Grand Palais in Paris, until the ceremony’s host, footballer David Ginola, stepped in to salvage her moment.

Murray was infuriated by the incident and took to Instagram to voice his anger. He said, “Another example of the ridiculous sexism that still exists in sport – why do women still have to put up with that?”

Typically modest, he has said he doesn’t want to be portrayed as some kind of “saviour” for his stance. His words aren’t public posturing. They stem from a genuine belief that everyone should be treated equally.

Weir’s hopes for women in sport

This is why Weir is so keen to work with Murray, agreeing to sign up without even meeting him first. She says he is knowledgeable about women’s football and has asked about her own experiences of gender bias. Weir agrees football is still a male-dominated world. “Even playing for a women’s team, we have male staff,” she admits. “It’s always that debate about should there be more female coaches.”

Weir says gender shouldn’t matter and the person most qualified and best suited to the job should be appointed. She is a firm advocate for more women in football including coaching staff, behind-the-scenes analysts and in sports journalism. “There’s definitely a gap right now,” she says.

She thinks if the day ever comes when the discussion is about the game of football as a whole, rather than “men’s football” and “women’s football”, they will have made some headway into solving gender inequality. Weir has signed a new contract with Manchester City until 2022.

Winning major trophies with City, including the 2019 Conti Cup Final against Arsenal, when she received the Player of the Match award at Bramall Lane, she also played in the 3-0 FA Women’s Cup final win over West Ham a few weeks later.

Are women fairly represented?

Research by the National Coaching Foundation has revealed there are more than 1.7 million male sports coaches and 1.4 million female coaches in the UK today. However, the female coaches’ most common job title was “helper”, despite doing the same duties as men who were called the “coach”.

In addition, the female coaches were more likely to coach in schools, while male coaches were more likely to work in professional sports clubs. The research revealed 34% of female coaches worked in schools, compared with only 17% of male coaches.

Women were significantly more likely to recognise how coaching improved not only sporting skills, performance, fitness and physical health, but also mental health and wellbeing too. Sportspeople, receiving coaching at every level, believed it was more important that their coach understood them, rather than having a coach of the same gender, age, or background.

What about equal pay?

Despite there still being a long way to go, the opportunities for female coaches have increased in the past two decades. According to research by Funding 4 Sport UK, at the time of the 2004 Olympic Games, only 10% of UK coaches were women.

The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation ran two Women into Coaching programmes in 2005 and 2006 to encourage more to take part. Today, 30% of professional UK sports coaches are female, while initiatives such as Project 500 aimed at inspiring and supporting women who wish to become coaches.

Campaigns to introduce equal pay for men and women in sport have achieved a degree of success in recent years. Today, 83% of sports give men and women athletes equal prize money, according to a study published by BBC Sport.

A statement from UN Women describes women as being “far more visible in sports today than at any previous point in history”. However, it concludes the pace of change remains slow and believes there is still a “long journey” ahead to reach complete pay equality at the highest level.

It is hoped the meeting between Andy Murray and Caroline Weir, and their ongoing collaboration, will encourage more women to enter sport and increase equal opportunities for all.

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