A Turning Tide
Social Change

A Turning Tide

You don’t have to be a forensic scientist to see that comparable with men’s sport, women’s sports are underrepresented on our televisions, billboards, radios and digital platforms. Whilst 40% of all sport participants are female, only 4% of all sports media is dedicated to women’s sports.

Whilst it is crucial to examine the disparities between men’s and women's sports at a professional and socio economic level, it would be amiss to not examine the early years, and the colossal impact that this has upstream in adult life. The benefits of sports are immense, from body image, to mental health, to career progression and overall happiness. Amazingly, girls who are active in sports in their adolescence are 20% less likely to develop breast cancer in later life.

A report by the US based organisation ‘Women’s Sport Foundation’ found that by age 14, many girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. One of the reasons that they stop participating in sports is quite simply the lack of access. Girls have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play high school sports than boys, and this needs to change.

"I think the future could look bright, but there is a need for broader cultural changes regarding women's and girls' involvement in sport, including normalising women's sport as simply 'sport'.

Dr Ali Bowes, senior lecturer in the Sociology of Sport

At WSM, we see that there are several factors that will facilitate this change; schools and colleges need to drive a much higher emphasis on supporting an equal or even greater level of resource for clubs and teams at school level. Parents need to be educated on how important it is not to fall into archaic stereotypes when supporting their children and encouraging sports, and crucially, governing institutions need to make sure that funding, promotion and engagement in camps and developmental academies are balanced towards all genders.

To say that the inequality is systemic is perhaps something of an understatement, and it’s not just the media sectors that bear the responsibility, it’s the sporting institutions and governing bodies themselves, who also need to stand up.

During 2020, in the height of the pandemic, this inequality was amplified by the reintroduction of men’s football to our screens, albeit to empty stadia, whilst the women's game was left on ice. In Golf, which was one of the first sports that the UK government deemed suitable for socially distanced competition, the leading male athletes are on track to have played 6 major competitions by July 2021, whereas the female athletes are relying on mini tours, one of which is partly funded by a former male number 1, Justin Rose.

Optimistically, there is a real and powerful movement of demonstrable change in the air. The US women's football, who are 4 times world champions, and generated more revenue than the men’s team, recently filed and subsequently won a wage discrimination act against US soccer, and they didn't stop there. Recognising that wage disparity is just one area of the fight, they also filed another lawsuit regarding marketing, and how the lack of it in women's sports leads to lower attendance, lower televised viewership, and lower merchandise sales.

Women’s sport is also getting far more screen time and is becoming more meaningful and popular among mainstream audiences. In the UK, 30% of coverage on the BBC is women's sports. The BBC aired the FA Cup Final, Fifa World Cup, Netball World Cup and Women’s Ashes. UK national newspaper The Telegraph has also launched a women’s sports section.The Fifa Women’s World Cup broke broadcasting records, with a total of 1 billion views tuning in to watch the tournament that was ultimately won by the USA.

At WSM we see the recent pandemic and the light it has shone on women's sports as an positive, not a negative. We are living through a period of huge change, and families, educational institutes, sports clubs and the media, are waking up to a world of new opportunities to change the dialogue to an inclusive, positive and exciting future where our screens and print media are showcasing sport as sport, irrespective of the gender of the athlete. This is the inevitable future we are heading to, and we should all be excited to be part of the journey to get there.

Images courtesy of Nike and Marketing Interactive.

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