Placing women’s sport higher on the media agenda

Sarah Storey on the way to one of her four London Paralympic gold medals, bringing her career tally, across two sports, to a record-equalling 11
Sarah Storey on the way to one of her four London Paralympic gold medals. But does she and other elite sportswomen get the media coverage they deserve?

Next week, SARAH JUGGINS, the SJA’s Treasurer, takes part in a wide-ranging discussion being held at Westminster on women’s sport, including the media’s coverage. Here, she outlines some of the issues likely to be raised

Is a lack of relevant media coverage the reason that a large percentage of girls and women are not participating in sporting activities? This is just one of the questions likely to be discussed at an all-encompassing morning of discussions at the Westminster Media Forum’s seminar next Thursday.

Sarah Juggins: SJA Treasurer speaking at next week's women in sport seminar
Sarah Juggins: SJA Treasurer speaking at next week’s women in sport seminar

The question of women and sport regularly raises its head. A quick trawl suggests three peaks in such discussions. There was the outrage in 2011 when there was not a single sportswomen on the shortlist for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year. Where were our sporting heroines? How could more than 50 per cent of the population fail to produce a single, recognisable, elite sports person?

That was readily addressed at the 2012 Olympics when Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won Britain’s first gold medals of the London Games, and following in their wake were the likes of Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins, Victoria Pendleton… all to become household names.

This time the question was whether this flurry of female sporting excellence would result in more girls choosing to do sport.

Now, nearly three years after London 2012, we may have a partial answer to that question, and now the the question is: why are young girls and women still failing to embrace a sporting lifestyle? It is not just a question of where our next generation of Ennis-Hills, Adlingtons and Tweedys are going to come from. It is also a question of how can we get the nation’s women and girls to get more active and physically fit.

Among the institutions that are deemed to be influential in female sports participation are schools and universities, the government, the sports’ national governing bodies, and the media. At next week’s seminar, there will be a discussion session, chaired by Tracey Crouch MP, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which will focus on the media’s coverage of sport.

Tracey Crouch: football coach as well as MP
Tracey Crouch: football coach as well as MP

Crouch is herself a coach to a girls’ football team in Kent and has played in the Parliamentary team against a team of journalists.

This session will examine the current audience base among women and the seminar participants will discuss ways in which the media, sponsors, national governing bodies and the athletes themselves can work towards greater publicity, higher public profiles and greater media exposure for women in sport. This session will also explore the impact of social media and ask whether this could be a route to increasing interest in sport among female audiences.

From the Sports Journalist’s Association’s point of view, we will be arguing that there is a growing appreciation of women’s sport and a steady increase in coverage of women’s sport, online, in print and through broadcasters. This has particularly increased since London 2012 with the successful performances of some of our top sportswomen. But we will also point out that, although successful sportswomen do make the sports pages, for the foreseeable future, nothing will supplant men’s football on the back pages – there is over a century’s worth of tradition reflected by the newspaper coverage.

The seminars other sessions will look at increasing girls’ participation rates in school sport (this to be chaired Barbara Keeley MP, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Sport and Fitness). Among the topics to be explored are ways that sports bodies and schools can work together to produce a coherent strategy – a means of providing youngsters with a clear pathway from school sport to a lifetime of club-based involvement.

In another session, Liz Nicholl, the chief executive of UK Sport, will be looking at funding and promoting success; while Ruth Holdaway, the chief executive of Women in Sport, will be among those talking about the means of removing barriers to participation among women of all abilities.

The summing up question is one to vex sponsors, politicians and national governing bodies seeking to secure funding for their sport: “How should success be measured best – through participation rates, investment or media exposure?”

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Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms now available here

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Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club