One of the things about working as a physio, especially one that has been in the same area for a while, is you get to know many of your patients well. With treatment sessions lasting up to an hour conversations, unsurprisingly, often stray well beyond the problem being addressed. Anything from politics, religion, education and health to potholes, gay rights, and ageism, are all fair game – its surprising what physio techniques encourage; a valid distraction policy perhaps? Since the 2012 Olympics, however, the increasing frustration with the lack of coverage of ‘minority ‘sports and the monopoly of the media by men’s games, particularly football, has become a common talking point. This comes from both men and women, young and old.
The fabulous thing about the 2012 summer of sport was the publicity given to a great variety of events. From women’s boxing – who can ever forget Nicola Adams infectious smile – to canoe sprints, Graeco-roman wrestling, gymnastics, shooting, water polo and dressage. This enormous panoply of events not only brought exotic sports into our living rooms, often for the first time, but it broke down all manner of prejudices and preconceptions. Disabled sport was shown to be just as compelling and exciting as able-bodied – sometimes more so, women’s boxing was skilful with the boxers, to some people’s surprise, looking delightfully feminine and we all had to revise our ideas about the athleticism of beach volleyball and the class issues surrounding dressage. The games showed how sport brings people together regardless of age, religion, class and gender.
So why, oh why has this not changed how sport is represented and portrayed? Within a matter of weeks after the end of London 2012 the media had reverted to type with coverage in the sports pages largely confined to men and male team sports. Women’s sport barely registers a mention in most daily papers, neither do the disabled. Even when the England women’s cricket team recently retained the ashes in Australia – they did not warrant even one full page article in The Times. They shared a page with a report on Schumacher and the latest men’s cricket match against Australia. It is argued that only popular sports attract media attention, but it is a case of the chicken and egg. The wealth and power of a few sports dominate and monopolise the media. This control of publicity maintains the status quo; smaller sports are kept out & their chance to attract support snuffed out before its begun.
In my clinic I have more women doing regular exercise than men, women in general look after their bodies better – they are less likely to be over weight & think about their diet more. Seven of the ten best British medal hopes for the winter Olympics in Sochi are women and yet publicity for sports other than the wealthy men’s games is spasmodic at best and completely absent at worst. This lack of attention to women’s achievement mirrors the response to female mountaineers in the nineteenth century. Despite all the major alpine summits being climbed by women between 1860 and 1880 there was little publicity; the overwhelming perception was that mountains and mountaineering were a ‘playground’ for men.
In the twenty first century you would hope things are different and of course in many, many ways they are; politically, legally, in education, and in job opportunities it is a very different world. Sport, and the publicity surrounding it, however seems to be dragging its feet. Hopefully the 2014 Sochi games will be another chance to witness the great array of sports on offer and cheer home all our athletes. If current form is any predictor, however, just like the London 2012 games it will be women like the curling team, Katie Summerhayes, Shelley Rudman and Lizzy Yarnold leading the way to the medal podium. The challenge for the media is to continue coverage beyond the immediate frenzy of the games and give more of the oxygen of publicity to a greater variety of sport; ones that are not wealthy and predominantly male. Go teamGB!!