Coverage of women’s sport still trying to catch-up

The latest forum on women in sport has been held at Westminster, and committee member JANINE SELF was there for the SJA

If London 2012 was supposed to herald a brave new world for women and sport, then it appears to have fallen short.

From participation, to the growth of elite women’s sport, to commercial pulling power, to media coverage, the postscript to a glorious Olympic summer is perceived to have been a short one.

Two years ago the Department of Culture, Media and Sport commissioned a report on women and sport, to which the Sports Journalists’ Association contributed in response to the suggestion the male-dominated sports media are also partly to blame.

Knock-out: Nicola Adams on her way to Olympic glory in 2012. But what's happened for women's sport since?
Knock-out: Nicola Adams on her way to Olympic glory in 2012. But what’s happened for women’s sport since?

That topic was on the agenda again at a Westminster Media Forum Seminar, co-chaired by MP Barbara Keeley and Lord Moynihan, along with gym knickers, breast health, the financial pulling power of Maria Sharapova (a fortnight is a long time in tennis) and why mixed gender sport could be the future.

The message that emerged was there is still a huge challenge ahead, starting with the appalling fact only 12 per cent of girls aged 14 are getting enough physical activity each week.
As opening speaker, Women in Sport chief executive Ruth Holdaway, said: “There was a lot of talk after London 2012 about how brilliant it has been for women’s sport. Then what happened?

“Not very much, actually. At Women in Sport we did some research into commercial investment and media coverage of women’s sport, and one year on from the Olympics, what we found was that media coverage of women’s sport was pretty much standing still, and commercial investment into women’s sport at that time had actually dropped.”

The BBC's Ellie Oldroyd receives her Broadcast Presenter Award from SJA Chairman David Walker
The BBC’s Ellie Oldroyd receiving her 2014 Broadcast Presenter Award from the SJA’s David Walker. Half of Oldroyd’s radio show guests are women

Shelley Alexander, the lead for women’s sport at the BBC and one of the founder members of Women in Football, believes that broadcasters have picked up the baton as far as coverage of women’s sport is concerned.

Alexander contributed from the floor, pointing out that 32 per cent of live sport shown on the BBC last year was women’s sport and that of the 12.6 million people who watched the women’s football World Cup, 67 per cent were men.

Alexander also revealed that BBC radio 5Live presenter, and a past SJA broadcast award-winner, Ellie Oldroyd, insists that half her guests on a Friday are sports women.

Someone else who is determined to attract more women into sports journalism is the Press Association’s sports editor Ashley Broadley, another of the main speakers at the event.

“In the interests of transparency, yesterday I got the most up to date figures from my department and we have 76 sports journalists,” he said.

“Two of those positions are currently vacant, 66 are filled by men, and eight are filled by women, so that’s just under 11 per cent. At a senior level I’ve got six duty editors, two of whom are women.

“Since I was given an opportunity to speak, I’ve also actually kept a record of the people that have applied to work on sport at PA in the last month or so. We recently advertised for a new trainee reporter and received 172 applicants, of which 19 were female.

“We also recently advertised for the high-profile position of chief sports journalist and there were 28 applicants, just one from a woman journalist, and she was not shortlisted for interview.”

Broadley revealed a massive increase in interest for women’s sport from PA’s client base and called for national governing bodies to employ press officers who can provide good content.

“We simply do not have the resources to go out there and cover, for example, the women’s Six Nations, so we get the England RFU to send us reports and quotes from that game and it goes out on the wire.”

Nathalie Zimmerman-Neon, the managing director of the sport intelligence division of Kantar Media revealed that tennis and athletics are the most followed women’s sports in Britain and believes that mixed gender events will continue to drive interest in women’s sports.

The forum also heard that when young girls were asked why they did not take part in sport, reasons included compulsory gym knickers, an embarrassment to talk about sports bras, and a dislike of traditional competitive sport.

Back to the issue of women’s sport and the media. Lord Moynihan summed it up: “All the media are really trying to address this issue, really trying to promote women’s sport. The fact that we heard the statistics from Ashley earlier that we are nowhere near where we should be, is the challenge.

“But it’s also the opportunity, and I think everybody who is passionate about this subject should work together to try and deliver improvements and take forward many of the interesting suggestions made.”

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