Media, Sport and Variety…..please!

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. _62163892_jex_1488492_de27-1This 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. _65413909_mmcriengwmnsteampicThey 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. Elizabeth-Yarnold-skeleton-gettyIf 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!!

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3 Responses to Media, Sport and Variety…..please!

  1. Laura H says:

    I doubt there will be sustained media coverage for US winter sports period. I’ve had a read at the Retuers style guide, and they pretty much state in non-Olympic years with the exception of alpine skiing. http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=Sports_Style_Guide Despite the massive popularity of the USwNT, as a rule they do not cover women’s soccer. See http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php?title=Soccer#Women.E2.80.99s_soccer So realistically, when most companies are using the AP and Reuters and other wire services to get news, this means not much is available to begin with.

    • clarearoche says:

      Hi Laura,
      Thanks for reading and responding to my blog. Its great to have some feedback- much appreciated. Yes I’m sure the news agencies are highly influential but they are not involved, in the Uk at least, to the same degree in non international and local sport. Newspapers- either in hard copy or increasingly online – remain a powerful force here. Additionally sports based radio stations and Tv channels are not subject to news agencies and reach large audiences; they have a huge opportunity to change perceptions of sport. We need to keep badgering them and show there is a demand for wider coverage. The more we keep silent the more they can argue there is no need to change.

      • Laura H says:

        Badgering is good, and sustained pressure appears to work to bring about change because things can prove to be successful. (Look at what the London Paralympics did in terms of putting pressure on the United States to provide live television coverage of the Games. For the first time ever, 10 hours of live coverage will be provided for the Paralympic Games in Sochi. Haiti had more live coverage of the Paralympics than the USA.)

        Multiple avenues need to be pursued because the feedback cycle is pretty awful. I am an active contributor to women’s sport articles on English Wikipedia because I believe it can be a hugely influential tool for highlighting women’s sport, but treating men and women equally on higher level articles often does not happen because, as I have been told by multiple male soccer article writers, the men’s game is just more popular than the women’s game so one should be gendered and othered, and the more popular one should not be.

        I feel like we might be getting closer to a critical mass if the voices keep going and people keep realizing how important this issue is. Female sportspeople need to be treated by the media as elite athletes, not as sexy pinups and not as women first. Female sports journalist need to stop being treated like eyecandy and potential dates for the male viewing audience. Female participation in sport isn’t just good for potential business models, but also good for women’s health.

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