Philip Barker

In the New Year, former television executive Susanna Dinnage succeeds Richard Scudamore at the helm of what she describes as "the pinnacle of professional sport". When it was announced, her appointment to head the Premier League was widely welcomed.

"An outstanding choice given her track record in managing complex businesses through transformation and digital disruption," said Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck, a member of the Premier League's recruitment panel.

"We are confident she will be able to take the Premier League to new heights."

It came at the end of a year which, one way or another, has been hugely significant for women in sport.

In the last few days members of the St Moritz Toboggan Club voted to end a 90-year ban and allow women to race on the Cresta Run.

In the early years of the club women were allowed to race but in 1929 this decision was reversed due to "health reasons", apparently because it was feared that doing so might cause breast cancer.

The headline in The Times newspaper in London suggested another barrier had been broken - "Club comes out of the Ice Age".

It was not until 2002 that women's skeleton was admitted to the Winter Olympics, but by 2018 Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain staked her claim as the finest exponent of the art. She became the first slider to retain an Olympic title in skeleton in Pyeongchang. That she did so while battling ill health embodied the spirit of the Games.

''I love being a voice for women in sport, if I can keep talking about it and banging the drum and support young female athletes,'' she said.

Marit Bjørgen ended a remarkable career with more success at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
Marit Bjørgen ended a remarkable career with more success at Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

Pyeongchang 2018 featured another supreme performer. The achievements of Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen have eclipsed all others in winter sport. It was fitting that she won the very last gold medal of the Games. 

Her dominance in the 30 kilometres mass start was a wonderful way to say farewell after a Games which brought her five medals in all. It was appropriate too that she should receive her last gold on the biggest stage of all at the Closing Ceremony .

"I am sitting here with 15 medals," she said. "It is hard for me to understand."

Former Norwegian Prime Minister and NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg added on social media: "You made us jump with joy and scream with excitement."

Organisers of major events in 2018 were certainly on message with big symbolic pieces on set. Two members of Korea's united women's ice hockey team, one from the North and one from the South, carried the Olympic flame up to the cauldron before passing it to skater Yuna Kim. 

Two months later, Australia's world, Olympic and Commonwealth hurdles champion Sally Pearson was the final bearer of the Queen's Baton at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Then at the Asian Games in Jakarta, badminton star Susi Susanti, Indonesia's first Olympic champion, lit the cauldron at a spectacular Opening Ceremony.

It was all so very different to 50 years ago when 400 metres runner Norma Enriqueta Basilio ignited the cauldron at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. She did so at a Games where opportunities for women were limited. In the athletics arena there was no marathon, triple jump, pole vault or hammer throw. There were also no women's competitions in rowing, football or hockey.

In 1968, membership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was exclusively male and it was a similar story in the leadership of most sports. That did not change until two women were co-opted in 1981, but nowadays around a third of the membership is female. Swimmer Kirsty Coventry now sits on the Executive Board and leads the IOC Athletes' Commission.

Although the United Nations designated 1975 as an International Women's Year, the addition of women's sports events was still more of a trickle than a torrent.

It was not until the early 1980s that the women's marathon finally became a feature of international athletics and it was included in the inaugural World Championships in 1983.

In 2018, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) claimed their Games in the Gold Coast would be "the most gender equal major multi-sports event in history".

Ada Hegerberg's Ballon d'Or prize was overshadowed by a comment about twerking ©Getty Images
Ada Hegerberg's Ballon d'Or prize was overshadowed by a comment about twerking ©Getty Images

More than half of the judges and officials in basketball, hockey and swimming were women.

"We believe our unwavering commitment to gender equality is a core value which differentiates the Commonwealth Games from any other international sports movement," said CGF President Louise Martin.

As part of the initiative, the Organising Committee circulated guidelines on equality to volunteers. These came in for some criticism in local Australian media. Although earnestly meant, some of the wording did smack of politically correct focus groups.

There was also a memorandum to press which sought to promote "balanced media portrayals within the international media".

It claimed that research had shown that "there are imbalances in the portrayal of men and women in sport, including placement, prominence, language and tone".

It asked that "narrative and language surrounding male and female athletes is focused on athletic achievement, rather than clothing appearance or marital status".

The memorandum went on to request that "questions asked be appropriate to both genders".

It was a message that did not seem to have seeped through at the Ballon d'Or presentation ceremonies this year where a Norwegian footballer was among those taking centre stage.

Olympique Lyonnais striker Ada Hegerberg received the inaugural Ballon d'Or Feminine after a season when her goals propelled the club to victory in the UEFA Champions League. Unfortunately, the moment will be remembered for the infamous "do you know how to twerk?" comment, made in French by the awards presenter Martin Solveig, a DJ. 

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin was withering when questioned on Slovenian television a few days later. He branded Solveig "an idiot who doesn't know how to behave" and insisted that "never again would he host such an event".

It was a big year for both forms of hockey. The women's ice hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics featured the "united" Korean team in what many saw as one of the key symbolic moments of the year.

There were some who felt that the decision to disrupt the careful preparations of the South Korean team by parachuting in 12 players from the North was a slight on the women's game, but the flip side was that the matches attracted big crowds and a considerable media presence which might not otherwise have been in evidence.

In field hockey, this year's Women's World Cup in London drew huge crowds throughout. It was helped by glorious weather of the kind not seen in the British summer since 1976.

Ireland's women provided a fairytale story at the Hockey World Cup ©Getty Images
Ireland's women provided a fairytale story at the Hockey World Cup ©Getty Images

There was even, conveniently, a fairytale story, with underdogs from Ireland confounding expectation by making it all the way to the final. That The Netherlands, number one ranked in the world, restored the status quo did nothing to diminish a fabulous story.

If the media interest in the draw for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup is anything to go by, the competition in France will eclipse previous tournaments.

After the impact of the British teams at London 2012, the British Olympic Association are backing a women's team for Tokyo 2020. The Football Association in England have led the way and, sensibly, the other home associations have not stood in the way of this initiative. 

It is one decision which, although not gender equal, is eminently practical. The Olympic tournament, whisper it quietly in Lausanne, remains a much bigger deal for the women than the men.

At Lord's Cricket Ground, where the women's game attracted more than 26,000 for last year's World Cup final, a small but significant addition to the dressing rooms has recognised female achievement. 

Alongside the honours boards which only recognise Test matches, a different display will give the names of centurions and bowlers who have taken five wickets in one day internationals. 

At a stroke this will mean women's names appear for the first time. Among them will be Australia's Lisa Keightley, the first woman to score a century at the London ground.

The first steps in including women's cricket in the Commonwealth Games have also been taken with International Cricket Council backing. 

In light of the success of the Women's Big Bash in Australia, the authorities in India could do a lot worse than to launch an Indian Premier League for women. The skills on display at the World Twenty20 Cup in the West Indies last month suggest that there is a real appetite.