Clare Balding reveals a Jennifer Saunders v Oti Mabuse sporting clash...

Clare Balding, Jennifer Saunders, Oti Mabuse and Gwendoline Christie

Clare Balding on enlisting the help of Ab Fab's Jennifer Saunders and Strictly's Oti Mabuse for a Sport Relief challenge match...

Ab Fab star Jennifer Saunders and Strictly's Oti Mabuse will be showing off their ball skills and nimble-footed moves on the netball court this summer when they go head to head in a special netball match arranged by Clare Balding as part of the BBC's upcoming Sports Relief extravaganza.

Sports presenter Clare, who's part of the BBC's Change The Game season celebrating women in sport, has been busy helping pull to together the star-studded match to be staged on July 19 during the Netball World Cup in Liverpool.

Hoping to fulfil a childhood dream of lifting a sporting trophy, huge netball fan and comedy legend Jennifer will captain one of the teams and will battle it out against a star-studded team led by Strictly Come Dancing’s Oti who grew up playing netball in South Africa.

Here, Clare Balding reveals which other celebs she’s hoping to rope in, which sportswomen have inspired her and why this promises to be an incredible year generally for women’s sports….

How did the idea for the Sport Relief celebrity netball match come about?

Clare Balding: "I’ve been trying to persuade Sport Relief that they should do an all female sports event for a number of years and eventually they agreed we could do a netball match. So on the Friday before the final of the Netball World Cup there’ll be a celebrity netball match in Liverpool in front of a massive crowd and the team captains we’ve lined up are Strictly pro Oti Mabuse and Absolutely Fabulous star Jennifer Saunders. Jennifer insists she’s going to try to get Gwendoline Christie (right in main picture), the really tall actress from Game of Thrones, to be her substitute. Jen says she’ll play for about two minutes and then Gwen can come on as the star shooter!"

Clare Balding at the Baftas

Clare Balding (David Fisher/BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock)

Which other celebs have you got lined up?

Clare: "I’ve heard that Sally Phillips and Sarah Hadland (both stars of Miranda) are going to play and we’re also after Olympic-winning 400m athlete Christine Ohuruogo because she was a really good netball player. We need a few ringers in there, and there are going to be some ex pros too – it’ll be really good fun."

Tell us why this year is going to be a really exciting summer for women’s sport with the BBC's Change The Game season?

Clare: "It’s the collision of all these great events. We’ve got the FIFA Women’s World Cup in June (all matches on BBC1, BBC2 and BBCiPlayer) which is being hosted in France so it’s in our time-zone and England are coming in with a great record having reached the semi-finals last time. We’ve also got the Netball World Cup on home soil in Liverpool, and of course the World Athletics and Wimbledon."

How do you feel about women’s sports finally being given more air time on the BBC?

Clare: "It’s so important. For me, it’s about creating those moments when women are in the spotlight because you can’t make iconic figures unless you give them the air time, the face time and the print time. That’s what this summer is about. In all the sports, it’s about making sure that women of all shapes and sizes, women with loud voices, women with quiet voices, women who are aggressive and women who are quieter, that they all get their moment and that girls, and adults too, get to see these amazing sportswomen and go, ‘Gosh, there’s someone who’s a bit like me, I want to be like that.'"

Who do you think is inspiring?

Clare: "I was interviewing Steph Houghton (England football player) today and I came away thinking, 'I just want to be like her’ she’s amazing! She talks so much sense and that’s what’s really inspiring. I think about what we’re all doing and the chance the BBC is giving to women in sport and it has a massive ripple effect. You look at the big companies who are now getting involved, for example Barclays coming in to sponsor the WSL, Boots coming in to sponsor women’s sport, The Telegraph launching its women’s sport section. It’s more than just sport, it’s business, it’s culture, it’s education, it’s everything. It changes lives and that’s why #Changethegame is really important."

Which other sportswomen stand out?

Clare Balding: "British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith would almost be the number one for me in terms of iconic profile in women’s sport at the moment I’d put her number one, the most visible the most recognised, that fantastic personality, really bright, really eloquent. Women are really kicking arse. You put a microphone infront of them and they’ve got something interesting to say, they engage, they understand their wider responsibility."

What responsibility do you think they have?

Clare Balding: "People like Katherine Grainger (five times Olympic rowing champion) and the GB hockey team led by Kate Richardson-Walsh, they understood that they had a wider message and that they had an impact that would change girls from worrying that they’re not skinny enough, that they’re not size zero jeans, that their lips weren’t big enough and their hair didn’t swish enough to thinking, ‘Hang on, what does my body do for me, what can I do?’

"The impact is really important, when you look at the crisis in our younger generation, the obsession with turning the camera on yourself and the insecurity that comes from that, sport is a really important way of showing what’s possible."

Which female tennis stars should we be looking out for at Wimbledon this year?

Clare Balding: "In terms of the women’s game it’s phenomenally exciting because literally anyone can win but obviously Serena Williams will still be a headline act and she’s trying to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam titles - I think it would be amazing if she did that at Wimbledon. I hope Johanna Konta will go long into the second week and I’m very excited about Katie Boulter, I think she’s a real rising talent in the British game, I think she could be a top 30, top 20 player, I’d love to see her do well this year."

* Change The Game is a new BBC season celebrating a summer packed full of live women’s sporting action and complementary programming across BBC TV, radio and online. The BBC will broadcast every game of the Netball World Cup 2019, from July 15.


Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.