Women play sport? Never heard about it

At the beginning of last week, twitter told me there were a couple of big things coming up in women’s sport: the Australian Open (golf) and the World Cup (cricket). I was curious to see what coverage they’d get in my paper of choice (Sydney Morning Herald – I don’t read News Ltd papers), so from Monday to Friday I counted the number of stories in the SMH sports section. I also counted the number of stories on the smh.com.au/sport homepage around midday (when online newsrooms are well-staffed and the page is ready for the lunchtime increase in traffic, so theoretically any gaps in coverage have been identified and filled).

For the purposes of this short study, I counted everything with a byline, including opinion pieces. I also made a note of the small news briefs from wire services.

What I found was worse than I was expecting.

Monday 11 February
There are 29 stories in the sports section. Only one involves women’s sport and it’s AAP copy – ie, they didn’t bother having one of their own journalists cover it. There are 10 news briefs, two involving women’s sport.

On the smh.com.au sport homepage at midday there are 57 stories. Two are about women’s sport – one from AAP, one from AFP.

That AAP story that was in print and online – Stars crush Lankans to book spot in final – is about our women’s cricket team being in the World Cup final. Here’s how it’s promoted on smh.com.au/sport:

The value given by smh.com.au/sport to the women's cricket team being in the world cup final.

The value given by smh.com.au/sport to the women’s cricket team being in the world cup final.

That’s right, it’s BELOW two stories that don’t involve an actual game.

Tuesday 12 February
There are 19 stories in the paper copy. Only one involves women’s sport (cricket). Of the five news briefs from AAP and AFP, one is about a female athlete.

There are 40 stories online, and only one is about women’s sport: Star injury unearths teenage tearaway.

Wednesday 13 February
There are 13 stories in the paper version, and none about women’s sport. Of the five news briefs, two are about women’s sport: Laetisha Scanlan – Australia’s best female trap shooter, also a Commonwealth champion – won the Qatar Open (there were four Australian women in the top 10 but that wasn’t reported); and Torah Bright wants to be the first snowboarder in the history of the Winter Olympics to compete in three disciplines. Two good stories that are only mentioned in passing at the very end of the sports section, after coverage of domestic injury news for male athletes and speculation about which men might be in a team for an event later in the year.

There are 43 stories online, and only one is about women’s sport.

Thursday 14 February
There are 25 stories in the paper version, and two of them are about women’s sport. Of the five news briefs, only one is about women’s sport – Rachel Jarry joining the US WNBA.

Online at midday, there were 43 stories, and only 3 on women’s sport, tucked right down the end in “More sports”. No coverage of the cricket World Cup.

Friday 15 February
There are 24 stories published in the paper version. Two are about women’s sport. Five briefs from wires services, two about women’s sport – one begins “Accused of sexism last year, Basketball Australia is making the national women’s team coach a full-time job to boost the world No.2-ranked Opals’ quest for an elusive first Olympic gold medal”.

Online there are 51 stories, and 4 are about women’s sport. Two are even – gasp! – in the top section:

Woah! Two stories about women made it to the top of smh.com.au/sport.

Woah! Two stories about women made it to the top of smh.com.au/sport.

However, one story is so wrong that it should cancel out the others: Love is all around me, says Sharapova. In a story about the Qatar Open, Richard Eaton reports THE MOST IMPORTANT TENNIS NEWS: whether Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are celebrating Valentine’s Day. Yep. You read that correctly.

I’m not including the weekend in this little study because I was out doing stuff and didn’t get a chance to count the online stories, but I think it’s worth mentioning the paper coverage. The Weekend Sport section on Saturday had 26 stories and only one about women’s sport (golf). There were four news briefs – all male sport. The Sun Herald sport section on Sunday had 34 stories, with three about women’s sport (two cricket, one golf). There were two news briefs on male sport.

Now, you might want to argue that I picked a bad week to do this, because each day had two pages of the Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report. But you’d be arguing a dud point. The majority of stories published were about injury news in male sport, and who was maybe going to be in a team and who was maybe going to be left out of the team, and what the people in teams thought about upcoming games in male sport. Yet Australian women were competing in world events that barely rated a mention. Where were the stories about the Aussie Gliders at the Osaka Cup (wheelchair basketball, and they won, by the way), and the final round of the WNBL season? Netball’s pre-season games are about to start, so where’s the pre-season coverage that we get for AFL and League and Union? There was a Football NSW Women’s Sport Festival yesterday that wasn’t previewed on Saturday (a classic weekend story) or reported on today. Women’s football has 100,000 registered players, which is something editors might want to think about the next time they wonder how they’re going to get more readers. These are just the events that I know about, and I’m not a sports fan at all, so I’d expect that a sports reporter would know a lot more about what’s going on at any given time. You know, because it’s their job to report on sport.

You might also want to argue that women aren’t as interested in sport as men are, so therefore it’s a waste of resources to cover women’s sport at all. I’m calling bullshit on that one as well. You only have to look at twitter when a game of some sort is on to see all the women tweeting passionately about it. It’s also bullshit to suggest that men aren’t interested in women’s sport. And perhaps women aren’t reading your sports coverage because it’s always male sport that gets coverage. You’d think that with the newspaper industry in so much trouble, they might be looking at ways to get new readers, because business as usual clearly isn’t working.

And you might also want to argue that it’s not a sports reporter’s job to promote sport, their job is to report sport. Right. So report sport, then. Or change your job title to Men’s Sport Reporter.

So, from Monday to Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald published 110 sport stories, and only 6 were about women’s sport (5.45 per cent). On the same five days, smh.com.au/sport published 234 stories, and only 11 were about women’s sport (4.7 per cent). You tell me, is that good enough?

Oh, and for the record, South Korean golfer Jiyai Shin won the Australian Open yesterday, and this is how smh.com.au/sport is reporting Australia’s cricket win:

Smh.com.au/sport coverage of the Southern Stars winning the World Cup early this morning

Smh.com.au/sport coverage of the Southern Stars winning the World Cup early this morning

33 responses to “Women play sport? Never heard about it

  1. Reblogged this on iheariseeilearn and commented:
    The Invisible Sports people. Women and Girls.

  2. With respect, if women’s sport got the ratings, this simply wouldn’t happen. I love sport, and I have tried and tried to watch women’s sport and it doesn’t do it for me, or anyone I know. This is not sexism or misogyny. It is simply market value, which is not there.

    • I disagree. Firstly, women’s sport is so rarely televised that the ratings argument doesn’t apply. And secondly, just because you personally don’t like it, doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way you do.

  3. I take your point re just because I don’t like it. But if it rated and people watched, we wouldn’t be discussing this. It is rarely televised because it doesn’t get the ratings. Otherwise it would, yes?

    • But if it’s never been broadcast in a decent time slot, how would we know if it rates?

      For the purposes of this post, I’m interested in the print and online coverage of women’s sport. Most of the sports stories last week did not involve events that were broadcast on Australian tv.

  4. Great post. I regularly count the women’s sports articles in my local daily, The West. It makes for depressing stats.

    I would hazard a guess that women’s participation in all sport (and by extension its coverage, sponsorship etc etc) is closely linked to their feeling alienated from it. The world tells women sport is not a thing for them.

    • That’s my feeling about it, too. Plenty of women are involved in sport – as watchers and as players – and to pretend they’re not is just dumb. Particularly, as I said in my post, the newspaper industry needs to be doing everything they can to attract new readers.

  5. Ah, finally, someone to highlight the disgusting state that is sport reporting. I refuse to read newspapers in general for this reason.
    There are so many fabulous ladies out there doing great things across hundreds of sports and we never hear about it. You either have to search hard based on personal interest or knowing someone competing and even then it is likely to littered with shit about some male sports star seen picking his nose on the way to get his morning latte. It drives me bonkers!

    I know we arent talking TV but last stats I read on womens sport on TV sat at 9% of total sports coverage. So sadly it seems the print media is only getting half(ish) of that.

    It just isnt good enough! (and I’m not even a sports nut)

  6. outragedofmarrickville

    Strange this comes up now, only this week i was thinking to myself that I had heard women’s sports stories on the news pretty much everyday this week and that makes a nice change, i guess it was due to the big games. But that was TV, abc morning news. Maybe TV is doing more here than print. Having said that it was only a casual observation.

  7. ABC TV showed both major recent Women’s Golf tournaments live over 4 days each, as well as playing Women’s Basketball WNBL matches and W-League Soccer.

    • That’s excellent. So where was the coverage outside of ABC TV? I saw some tweets last night that Channel 7 or Channel 9 started their sport coverage with a story about an AFL player doing something (getting a new tat?) and not the women’s cricket win.

      From the link below from bluntshovels:

      “The ABC’s above-average representation of women in sport should be noted: female sport was the focus of 11% of television news coverage on ABC1 Sydney and Melbourne, while in non-news programming in the Sydney market, ABC1 and ABC2 were the only stations with more female sport than male sport coverage by duration. In television news coverage, Channel Nine Sydney and Channel Ten Melbourne were at the lower end of the spectrum, with 6% of all sports coverage on these stations devoted to female sport.”

      Blayze, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  8. Tops stuff, Ms Nips of Awesome. Subject close to my heart. Not sure if you’ve seen this report that has even more stark data on coverage?

    http://www.ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/356209/Towards_a_Level_Playing_Field_LR.pdf

    And I didn’t see a lot of netball captains lined up last week, being accused of nefarious deeds…

    • No, me neither…

      Thanks for that link, I hadn’t seen that report. Obviously my results can’t be compared to that (since my quick study wouldn’t stand up to academic rigour), but the findings are similar:

      “Coverage of women in sport made up 9% of all sports coverage in Australian television news media, while 7% of non-news programming content on television was devoted to female sport. Male sport, on the other hand, occupied 81% of television news reporting, and 86% of non-news programming on television.”

      Fairfax was also the worst in Chrys Stevenson’s Blokeyness Index, where she looked gender representation on the front pages of the major dailies – in terms of bylines and story content.

  9. I have, always, enjoyed most women’s sports more than men’s. not in everything, but mostly. When I watch Olympics, I enjoy the gymnastics and diving and volleyball the most. It’s rather depressing that our entire, it appears, sports world just are still chauvinistic in a lot of ways. I also think you are correct that women don’t read the sports pages because men don’t write about the women’s sports. Someone should start a women’s sport newspaper and just mention the men!

    • No! Then men won’t read it and women’s sport will continue to be “something that only women are interested in”, and men’s sport will continue to be the norm. That’s my criticism of Fairfax’s Daily Life as well – that all the articles on equality and parenting and relationships are tucked away down the bottom, cordoned off in a site “for women” so men won’t read them. Equality and parenting and relationships involve men too, but unless those articles are promoted as just something else to read – and not something for women to read – then we’re just talking to ourselves and nothing will change. That’s why this blog isn’t a women-only space. I think those spaces are important, but it’s also important to have spaces where women and men can talk about issues.

  10. I’m grateful to Mike for explaining the reason we don’t see coverage of women’s sport. Men aren’t interested in what women do, and they don’t think women are important. “Feminist Dad” will never run out of content.
    I’m kind of torn about the invisibility of sporting women. In order to receive the same kind of coverage that men do, the women would have to sexy up their uniform and be subjected to harrassment about their looks. You have a much better time when men aren’t looking at you.

    • Yes. Just because some men aren’t interested in watching it, that’s somehow the rule? The other thing about women’s sport that I hadn’t thought about but is in that report that bluntshovels posted, is that in order to get coverage, women have to win, whereas men get coverage just for competing.

  11. The bit I found really interesting is when the two values of “ignore women’s sport” and “Australia’s awesome” collide. I honestly didn’t know the women’s world cup was on until it was done (I’d normally pick up on the men’s at about the semi finals), but I think Ellyse Perry is the single name I’ve seen/heard most in media this week. That said, all the JJJ presenters love her, so she gets a lot of mentions there.

    My impression is that promotion of women in sport is improving, but slowly, though it’s hard to tell how much of that is my changing information sources.

    • Apparently the world cup final was a cracker of a game. ManFriend was getting quite shirty that the news updates that night ignored the whole game.

      (The number of people who find this blog searching for Ellyse Perry nude pics” is astounding.)

      • The highlights I saw post-game suggest it was probably more interesting than the men’s one-dayers lately (which I’ve seen very little of, mind you).

        You’ve just highlighted one of the dilemmas of promoting women’s sport though, that not all publicity is good publicity. One only has to watch women’s tennis to really see that in action.

        • Anthony, what do you mean about the tennis?

          • The Valentine’s Day story you found was a good example of how the media focus on female tennis players is strongly geared towards fashion/attractiveness/sexualisation (is that a word?) rather than whether or not they can actually play the game well. As another example, during the Australian Open I noticed that while the outfits and hairstyles of the women were regularly discussed (including a text-in question of who had the better outfit!), the men’s t-shirt selection wasn’t.

            I don’t think it helps the cause of women’s sport when there’s an expectation on the players to be attractive and preferably half naked to get media coverage. It remind’s me of part of Caitlin Moran’s definition of sexism: Is it polite and are the boys doing it? The boys aren’t…

  12. It’s also a resource thing too – as you’ve often pointed out, the links between PR and journalism are strong and growing. The men’s AFL has an entire media team producing content, as do the other men’s sports. They have long and close relationships with the MSM sports writers, while the under-resourcing of women’s sport extends to their comms teams.

    Like the community/care sector vs big corporates, it’s harder to get coverage when there are only a few people available to pump out press releases and get on the phone to newsrooms.

    And I’ve realised that I’m totally giving media outlets a free pass by saying all that! Of course, journos should be out there doing actual reporting, but I guess I’m just an old comms hack!!

    • Yeah, as much as I dislike all the re-written media releases that get called “news” these days, I do understand that the two industries need each other. And that if it was up to journalists to do all the work, the range of topics in the news would be even smaller.

  13. Great analysis.

    Also, and importantly, I think we can look across other fields and see similar dynamics at play as well: think women and comics, women and gaming, women and heavy metal music, women in leadership, etc. Part of the power of these exclusionary discourses of ‘women aren’t interested’, ‘not enough popularity’, ‘not enough profit’ is that by actually being across diverse fields, it’s hard for those women (and the men supporting them) to have a large enough collective voice to name it for what it is: bullshit, and in need of change by deliberate efforts.

    (I’ll tweet you a *FAB* Horacek cartoon on this exact point too. I think it’s like a decade old… which just shows how intractable this issue is.) Thanks NWN.

    • I think your point includes women’s voices in any field but parenting.

      That Horacek cartoon IS fabulous. I really need to learn to draw properly so Feminist Dad can be a little less embarrassing…

  14. Agree with the argument, probably because news is run by blokes so they don’t think anything else is important other than what they participate in. But what about beach volley ball, always get good coverage maybe not words but plenty of page space.

  15. Great article!

    Going back to the idea that Women’s sport “simply doesn’t get the ratings”. And this isn’t specifically to do with reporting, but to do with sports that are actually *shown* on free-to-air tv (according to anti-siphoning rules), i.e. those that get the ratings in the first place. It’s interesting to note that the sports which must be shown for free (according to Australian legislation) are primarily men’s sports – AFL, NRL finals, Soccer (but only FIFA World Cup games – which seem to be all men as far as I can tell) and Motor Racing. Women’s and Men’s tennis singles finals also fall under these rules (according to the legislation: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/television/antisiphoning_and_antihoarding).

    With these rules, women’s and men’s sports don’t even start on an even playing field (couldn’t resist the pun).

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