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Women coaching sportsmen

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Andy and AmelieThe last, great sporting gender divide?

This summer there were several high-profile appointments of women coaches at the highest level of sport.

In May 2014, Helen Costa was appointed manager of French second division team Clermont Foot 63.

Costa has a Masters degree in Sports Science, a UEFA A Licence and had previously managed the women’s Benfica and Quatar teams.

She has also worked as a scout for Scottish club Celtic and led Benfica’s male youth team to two World Youth titles.

But one month later, before the football season had started, and before she had been able to meet the players, Costa resigned, citing personal reasons.

It has been reported that she said that she had been sidelined and prevented from making the decisions coaches should be allowed to make, in addition to being at the receiving end of misogynistic comments, including from the chairman who hired her.

Costa’s appointment was the first of a woman in the top two divisions of European football.

The only other woman to have coached a professional men’s football team in Europe was Carolina Morace, who managed the Italian third division team Viterbese in 1999.

She quit after just two matches in charge, citing the problem of constant media pressure.

Costa has since been replaced by former France captain Corinne Diacre.

Diacre made 121 appearances for France between 1993 and 2005 and is a former assistant to the national team and manager of her former club, Soyaux.

Clermont Foot 63 lost its first game with Diacre in charge. Their opponents were Brest, and the obvious sexist jokes were made.

And questions have been raised about the pre-match action of Brest manager Alex Dupont, who presented Diacre with a bouquet of flowers. Most coaches do not receive flowers from the opposing coach.

Diacre has already spoken out about the interest in her gender, saying it is ‘over the top’ and that she is ‘trying not to get polluted by that… trying to maintain my focus as much as possible and stay as much in the shadows as possible because what interests me is that my players take the limelight, not me.’

In tennis, Andy Murray made the headlines when he appointed former World No. 1 champion Amelie Mauresmo as his coach at the beginning of the summer grass court season.

Mauresmo is a former Wimbledon and Australian Open champion.

She and Murray have agreed an initial short-term contract.

Women coaches remain rare in professional tennis, with the majority of female coaches either married to or the mother of the player.

Murray’s mother Judy coached both her sons when they were younger.

Martina Navratilova, the winner of 18 grand slam tennis singles titles, said about Mauresmo’s appointment, ‘It widens the field and widens the possibilities.

‘The ball doesn’t know if you are male or female. The strategy is the same.’

In England, Hope Powell, the former long-serving coach of the English women’s national football team, became the first woman to gain the UEFA Pro Licence, the highest coaching qualification available.

Other women in prominent roles in professional sport include Eva Carneiro, Chelsea FC’s first-team doctor, and Karren Brady, West Ham’s vice chairman, and earlier this year, the UEFA Women in Football Leadership Programme (WFLP) was introduced to help accelerate the development of women in football executive positions.

Women have the qualifications to coach at the highest levels, so recent appointments could be a positive sign of sport becoming a much more viable, and visible, career choice for women, in a variety of roles from playing to coaching and management.

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