If you can’t remember the last time you saw women’s sport on the back page of the newspaper, or watched a live match on television, it’s nothing to do with your memory. The fact is that in Australia, just 7% of our non-news sports coverage is devoted to women, and 9% of our news coverage.
On average, that’s around four minutes of women’s coverage in an hour long sports program, or 29 seconds of women’s sport in a five minute news segment.
This is not good enough.
When women make up around 50% of sports participants but less than 10% of sports coverage, it is a clear sign that it is not being valued as it should.
What is shown in the media may be argued to reflect society’s values, but it can also shape those values. At the moment we are perpetuating the idea that women’s sport is less important than men’s.
This is a problem for young girls who right now have a hard time finding sporting role models who are women on their screens or in the news.
It’s also a vicious cycle. Without good exposure in mainstream media, it is difficult for women’s sport to gain investment and grow the game. But until competition grows, exposure is hard to come by.
This problem is not unique to Australia. Around the world, there are similar statistics. In the UK, it’s the same – 7% of all sports media coverage is devoted to women’s sport. In the USA it’s even more pitiful – as low as 4%.
Perhaps most disappointing is that, rather than getting better, things have got worse. In the last decade, the amount of women’s sport coverage has actually declined.
The good news is, we can look to France to see how real improvement can happen.
Just a few years ago the situation there was just as dire as in Australia. In 2013 women’s sport accounted for about 7% of coverage. That year the French Minister for Sport, Valerie Fourneyron, announced funding to provide subsidised media coverage of women’s events.
One million euros per year was allocated to assist various media outlets to produce more women’s sport coverage, after it was identified as the key reason for the low levels of coverage.
In addition the government, along with French advocacy groups, organised an event for 2014 called ’24 heures de sport feminin or ’24 hours of women’s sport’. This initiative involved the agreement of various media outlets, who put women’s sport front and centre for the entire day.
Importantly, this raised awareness of the issue of underrepresentation in France. It prompted strong support from the media. Arnaud Simon, Senior Vice President of major media player Eurosport, declared that covering women’s sport “is not an option, it is an obligation”.
All this has had a noticeable effect. In just three years, women’s sport has jumped from 7% to 15% of total sports coverage in France. This is still far from ideal, but is a huge improvement in a short space of time.
Reports suggest that the initiative has led to spinoffs including additional coverage of women’s sport unrelated to the ‘24 hours’, as well as media outlets actually requesting that a second ’24 hours’ event, in 2015, be held.
The French example shows that things can change, but it requires leadership. In Australia, Labor’s Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pledged $21 million to fund an extra 500 hours of live women’s sports coverage on ABC.
Ideally this would just be one of a range of measures to improve outcomes for women’s sport in Australia. But the lesson from France is that targeted funding to increase coverage can have a wider impact and improve the treatment of women’s sport in the media.