Judy Murray interviews past and present sportswomen about the good and bad things that come with success

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Judy Murray is no stranger to sexist online trolling, a stream of which is levelled at her even in her most playful of tweets.

It was no different when she asked for help with a flat tyre on Twitter last month, after finding herself and son Jamie stranded on the hard shoulder of the motorway near Heathrow Airport. The circumstances almost made it too easy for the keyboard bashers to pounce, as they baulked at her inability to change the tyre herself.

She chuckles while recounting her joy that, when the AA man arrived, he too failed to wrench the wheel from its place and the car had to be towed. "You’ve no idea how happy I was because I was thinking, am I just being stupid and useless here?"

But some of the online reaction she received is part of a more serious struggle all athletes now contend with in the public eye, with women much more affected she argues.

Murray is heading up a first of its kind 11-part Sky documentary series called Driving Force, where she interviews some of Britain’s best-known and most successful sportswomen. From Dame Kelly Holmes to Dina Asher-Smith, Steph Houghton and Victoria Pendleton, Murray says one of the most striking similarities all their stories shared was how unprepared they felt for the spotlight and all the good and bad things that come with that.

Showcasing some of our most successful sportswomen and raising awareness of the challenges and issues that still exist in women’s sport. @SkySports @skytv @SkyCorporate @Womeninsport_uk @TeamGB https://t.co/mNCkxX8Cv3

— judy murray (@JudyMurray) November 13, 2020

"If you are trying to produce world class sportswomen, you have to invest just as much time getting them to understand the life and business of becoming a top athlete," she says over the phone with Telegraph Sport, driving in her now-repaired car. "And one of the things that was very clear from all of the conversations was how difficult it can be for some of our most successful female athletes to actually get to grips with the superstardom that comes with with winning a gold medal.

"They all spoke about the aftermath, of not realising the invasion of your privacy from being instantly recognisable everywhere, being trolled on social media. Becky Adlington had terrible experiences with that. We have to make sure that we are seeing the full picture around our female athletes."

Because of the added resources built into men’s sports, Murray says they are better prepared to deal with the huge lifestyle shift. They also do not have to deal with the sexist scrutiny women do. After 15 years of being publicly branded as Andy and Jamie’s "pushy mum" and a "nightmare", Murray could empathise with all of the women.

The series is directed by award-winning Rosemary Reed, whose production company focuses on amplifying women’s stories. She says to have an entire series dedicated only to female athletes “has never been done before” on British television, and is a testament to women’s sport’s upward trajectory.

But there remains work to be done on improving female representation within that, Murray says. As one of a minority of leading female coaches in tennis, she was unsurprised many of the interviewees spoke about the lack of women actually working in sport. 

"What I discovered when looking for people that worked within British tennis to come in as manager, PR, video analyst, physio or fitness trainer, I couldn’t find any women. I had to take an all-male team – and they were all brilliant, don’t get me wrong – but it really opened my eyes and made me ask, where are the women?

"Victoria Pendleton said to me when she was feeling anxious or vulnerable, she found the lady who worked on the reception at the training centre to go for a walk with at lunchtime so that she could offload. She didn’t feel she could open up to the all-male coaching staff. We are different physiologically and emotionally than men, and one of my big things that I’ve continued to try to speak out about is the need for more women in the sporting workforce. Because women were once girls and women understand how other women tick."

That extends to administrators and decision-makers. A report from 2019 found that 53 per cent of English professional sports clubs have no women on their boards, and a Telegraph Sport investigation in August discovered a quarter of taxpayer-funded sports organisations do not meet an existing target for gender diversity on boards. This trickles down to affect the athletes, Murray says, and means women do not have the same access to opportunities.

"When I became Fed Cup captain it really didn’t take me long at all to realise that you have to work so much harder to make things happen on the women’s side of the game than on the men’s – doesn’t matter who you are," she says. "They’re making me fight for a fourth member of staff when at the last Davis Cup match, when I watched Andy and Jamie, there were 19 people – five players and 14 staff – sitting on the bench.

"In sport the key decision makers are men, so they always see men’s sport first."

To her, exposing these kinds of issues and giving women the platform to do it, will help spark conversations that lead to action: "We need our female athletes to be confident enough and brave enough to be able to speak out about what they believe in like Megan Rapinoe is. And we need to empower them to do it. The series will raise a lot of talking points about the things that need to change still, to make women’s sport a better place for women. We have to keep our foot on the gas."