The short answer: no, I don’t believe that they currently do. The longer answer, with well over half of the headlines on the BBC Sport page being dedicated to the news in men’s sports, I think it becomes obvious to see that the focus on women’s sports simply isn’t there. Not only in the news, but there is a significant lack of general support and focus for women’s sports. But why is that? And what is being done to change this focus?
Admittedly, it’s not like there are no headlines at all dedicated to women’s sports. Going back to BBC Sport, there’s some focus on women’s hockey and football. On the Guardian’s sport page, however, I struggled to see any headlines on women’s sports. It’s the same situation on the Telegraph’s sport page, and it’s the same again on the Independent. Why then, is there such a lack of focus on women’s sports?
Part of the reason is that it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. With so much focus on men’s sports in the headlines, particularly on football, rugby and cricket, readers tend to find themselves focusing on those articles. In turn, the readership on those articles are much higher because they’re at the top of the page, and so the news outlets churn out more of the same to keep their readers supposedly happy. But what if, for those readers who want a bigger variety of sports news, the reason that we focus so much on men’s sports is simply because those articles are there, not because we actually want them, and so we unintentionally give off the impression that we do want them? What then?
To counteract this focus, some headline sports are trying to find ways to increase female participation through other means, and it’s really wonderful to see. Just because the media focus isn’t quite there doesn’t mean that the effort isn’t being made.
The Women in Sport organisation is one prime example of how they’re trying to better the environment for women playing sport and bring women’s sports to the focus. Their mission states that ‘Our vision is a society where gender equality exists in every sphere. We’re advancing gender equality through and within sport; empowering women and girls through sport and the sport sector’. Each year they are funded by Sports England to further their understanding to transform sport for women and girls. They also get involved with partnerships with county sports in order to further enhance this aim.
There is also the Women’s Sports Foundation. They advocate equality and sport and state that ‘We believe that sports are a birthright and we use our powerful voice to advocate for equality in sports for every girl and woman. We speak out for safe, equal playing fields for school-aged and elite athletes around the world and promote female leadership in all areas of sports’. There are plenty of organisations and groups which are trying to better the world of sports for women. But this is not enough, and the media is something which is able to play a big role in transforming this.
England hooker Amy Cokayne recently gave an interesting interview with the BBC about the gradual development of women’s rugby, and how it is slowly moving in the right direction. Although the momentum following the recent World Cup in Ireland was huge, she’s hoping that it doesn’t drop off and that more countries decide to follow suit. Under a new agreement between England’s players and the union, players will receive a match fee and training payments for the first time, demonstrating that steps in the right direction are gradually being taken. But the lack of media focus on the World Cup compared to other men’s events is still a vital influence in the redirection of the public focus, and her frustration at seeing the stadium much emptier at their games compared to the men’s games is understandable.
I think we can all agree that there are some powerfully influential female figures in the sports world, one prime example being Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam winner. It could also be said that despite this she still doesn’t receive the recognition that some of the top male tennis players receive, which some recent high-profile interviews, some with male British player Andy Murray, demonstrate. In one of them, the journalist leading the interview said to Murray that ‘Sam [Querry] is the first US player to reach a major semi-final since 2009’ at which point Murray interrupted him to say ‘male player’. The journalist, flustered, said ‘yes, first male player, that’s for sure’, seemingly forgetting that both Serena and Venus Williams, as well as Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, have all reached grand slam semi-finals since Andy Roddick lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final. This frustrating example, where a male athlete has to speak up to make sure that women’s achievements in sports are not forgotten, is just one of a long history of the dominance of men’s sports, especially within the media.
Many have acknowledged that much of women’s sports simply does not bring in the revenue that men’s sports does; but why is this? Is this because there is no media focus to draw the readers and fans to the sport? Perhaps if this changes, the big divide between women’s and men’s sports will also change and start to lessen.