Clare Balding

Week 79 (4 - 10 April 2015)

This year's Boat Race between Cambridge University and Oxford University is a milestone in women's sport: for the first time in the Boat Race's 183-year history the women's race will be held on the same day as the men's.

And to ensure the significance of the event doesn't go unnoticed, Britain's state broadcaster, the BBC, has pulled out all the stops, choosing its star sports presenter Clare Balding to host its coverage.

Balding shot to national prominence for her coverage of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games thanks to her sharp delivery, engaging manner and deep knowledge of seemingly every sport on the Olympic programme. And she has since used her elevated status as a platform to drive forward an agenda promoting equal opportunities for women in sport.

The award-winning presenter has participated in plenty of initiatives to level the playing field for women in sport including Sport England's recent This Girl Can campaign. Yet the statement she is making this weekend in choosing to front the Boat Race instead of the Grand National – the most high-profile race in the UK horse racing calendar – is perhaps her most significant and determined yet, as Balding forged her reputation in horse racing and has covered the Grand National for 21 years.

Yet interestingly her decision has been met with criticism and controversy by some, with Balding fully admitting that her social agenda was the deciding factor in her choosing the Boat Race.

She commented: "I felt I couldn't say all I say about women in sport and then not be there that first time the women are on the tideway.
"This [the race] will have a ripple effect all across society, business and sport."

Over the years, Balding has played a significant part in initiating that ripple by publicly voicing her opinions on gender equality in sport, keeping the issue on the news agenda.

Whether people agree or disagree with this approach, her style and excellent ability as a communicator have won over the British people, allowing her message to be heard loud and clear – leading to real, on-the-ground changes within British sport. As well as sharing the bill in the Boat Race, women will be playing in football's FA Cup Final in England's national stadium Wembley for the first time in history in August.

"This is the year we change things," Balding described 2015 earlier this week. It certainly seems that way.

Photo: Flickr