Columnist: Everyone deserves a shot at poll position

Susie Wolff
Susie Wolff

Fortunate to be brought up believing anything was possible, it never crossed my mind as a child, naive as that may have been, that there was differences in opportunities based on who or what you are.

Perhaps that is the benefit of privilege and following weeks of astounding sporting achievements from Rio, stories have filtered through that have shone a light on the ugly prevalence of privilege highlighted in sport – how we approach, comment and talk about female athleticism, success and progress is one of them. It should be basic – in exactly the same way we talk about any professional athlete or sportsman. If you are going to comment on their physicality or performance, make sure there’s a point to it, one relating to sporting ability.

Don’t get me wrong, the coverage of the Olympics has been extensive, exhaustive and although it sounds like a dream gig, the long hours in a foreign environment at fever pitch for two solid weeks must be draining. Slip-ups are inevitable and forgivable. But it is not so much individual error that’s concerning, but society’s stubborn oblivion to the fact that gender equality in sport has a marathon distance to go.

I am delighted and gutted at a new campaign #DareToBeDifferent – which pit stops at Knockhill today. Delighted because finally someone has taken the lead to tackle the embarrassing lack of women in motorsport and gutted because I am not 20 years younger!

The initiative, designed to increase female participation not just on the track but in every area of the sport and other perceived male-dominated industries, will hopefully pave the way for the creation of a new generation of role models in a performance sport – bearing in mind it is one the few mainstream British-followed sports that doesn’t differentiate between the abilities of male and female participants. Yet out of 2000 people vying for F1 status only 20 are girls...I mean, what?!

Most will not be surprised by that stat. And that’s what’s more worrying. Why in 2016 is that not considerably more shocking? Is it because we have failed to question why before? Is it because we don’t want to encourage our young women to be successful or society to be egalitarian? Do we still think of cars as a boys world? The answers to all of these questions frightens me. But I am buoyed by the likes of Susie Wolff, Oban born Formula 1 driver, who reached the pinnacle of her motorsport career and has now stepped up with a vision for the future, a powerful role model. Her campaign hopes to demonstrate to girls, in this instance aged 8-14, from local schools, that it is possible.

I just wish that 20 years ago there had been a Susie Wolff. I remember standing in the centre of a dusty racing track – the smell and the excitement was intoxicating – my parents unphased by a little blonde thing with a soft spot for oil, but not once did it cross my mind that I could actually do it. Or that I could ask to do it – I assumed it was for men, content to be a spectator. Thank God for Wolff’s vision and I look forward to a future starting grid balanced not only by skill and technology, but by equality.