Why women’s sports are under-reported in the media

As an avid sports fan, I try and keep up with the news and results of my favourite athletes and teams. Following women’s sports however is being made excruciatingly difficult by the media as their progress tends to be sporadically reported.

There are many different reasons why the media fails to report on women’s sports and sexism is often assumed as the cause. I myself have experienced sexism in sport and I do not expect the media to echo it either. If you examine the recent attention female sport has received though, it could be argued that sexism is not to blame.

Ever since the London 2012 Olympics, interest in women’s sport has increased. This interest has been helped with incredible campaigns by England in the Rugby World Cup and the Football World Cup to name a few.

Yet even with the media coverage that supported these sporting events, it appears to be limited. There is a demand for women’s sports – that much was shown by the millions of viewers that tuned into to watch the late night clashes in the football World Cup or the enthralling match between Serena Williams and Heather Watson during Wimbledon on the BBC. When it comes to reporting the matches though, there are limitations.

During the FIFA World Cup’s highs and lows, the morning papers saw less than a quarter of their articles dedicated to women’s sports according to Women’s Sports Media (@WomenSportsPress) on Twitter.

What is really preventing media coverage? 

There has been much discussion in recent months about inequality and sexism in the media and this must be extended to women’s sports. There is such a large opportunity for popular publications and TV stations to change the way the public perceive women’s sports and it simply has not been utilised.

I spoke to Anna Kessel, a sports writer for the Guardian as well as the co-founder and chair of Women in Football, who believes that the lack of women’s sports reporting was not founded on sexism but instead on the lack of culture. She said: 

“To cover relatively newly established sports such as women’s rugby, cricket and football requires extra resource at a time when newspapers are struggling to cope with the live events roster they have.”

Kessel argues that it would be difficult for publications to justify providing coverage of women’s domestic sport that only attracts a few hundred spectators when they do not cover men’s championship or lower league football that attracts many more spectators.

Whilst this is a dilemma faced by many publications, without media coverage women’s sports will not be able to grow to the levels their male counterparts have achieved.

The blame for the under-reporting of women’s sports does not just sit with the media companies themselves. Broadcasting and governing bodies need to work together on growing women’s sports. Tying in the TV rights to women’s matches with men’s matches in sports such as football forced the broadcast of the women’s FA Cup final that broke crowd records this year.

Governing bodies also need to invest more into the marketing teams that support women’s sports in order to extend their reach. By investing more into marketing, the public will not only learn about the women’s teams in their local areas but the team’s themselves will have bigger crowds supporting them. The FA Cup this year saw a record crowd but the first match and big header games of the FAWSL saw only a fraction of those numbers.

There are women’s sports that are more frequently reported on such as tennis and athletics due to the fact that they are sports that have sat for a long time on “roughly equal footing” according to Kessel, but they are still sitting in the shadow of the men’s game.  In athletics especially, the reporting can often be very male dominated with the men’s events billed as the main events.

Too much focus on looks

There tends to be “frequency of images associated with “conventionally attractive” female athletes, the titillating stories about their outfits, or grunts, in some media”, Kessel argues, as media bias once again rears its ugly head.

BT Sport’s elite athlete survey revealed that 67% of female athletes believed that the public and media prized their looks over their achievements. This shocking statistic alone shows the improvements needed to be made in the reporting of women’s sports.

Trying to change the way in which women’s sports are reported is another matter. In recent months, more women are challenging the sexist and misogynist values held by some corporations across different sectors. We need to extend this to the media and the reporting of female sports.  The fact there is a focus on the attractiveness of athletes or the sounds they may make when playing is quite frankly demeaning and must be reassessed.

That is not the only challenge facing the coverage of women’s sport though. In order to make coverage equal, we need to see a steady trickle of stories about women’s fixtures and results. Instead, the stories about women’s sports at the moment are saturated in features. 

Kessel said:

“The biggest current challenge, in my opinion, is to move on from great features about women’s sport – which we are seeing more of – to regular coverage of live women’s events”

Whilst features on women’s sport are certainly contributing to their growth and success in the United Kingdom, they are not the answer. Kessel was keen to see governing bodies pay publications to send writers to events and to provide financial assistance to struggling media organisations, as well as providing more information to publications themselves so that researching fixtures, results and stories would prove an easier task.

Nevertheless, whilst coverage of women’s sport has certainly improved since the London 2012 Olympics, additional steps need to be taken. The public need to show media corporations and sporting governing bodies that women’s sports stories are in demand and that we need to rethink how women’s sports are reported both in general and in the media.

Do you think women’s sports are under-reported? Let us know in the comments below. 

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