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Give us a twirl: Women, sport and the media


Give us a twirl: Women, sport and the media

Is it enough to simply push for greater media coverage of women’s sports or does there need to be a more fundamental shift in order to use sports for women’s empowerment?

In recent years, women have been making great strides towards equality in the world of sports. According to the recent Trophy Women? 2015 report, the proportion of women on executive teams in sports administration has increased from 21% in 2009 to 40% in 2015, and more women are appearing in senior positions in sports broadcasting and commentary. At the same time, a number of sport events such as Wimbledon have decided to award equal prize money to male and female competitors.

The media has also responded to calls for better coverage of women’s sports events, with unprecedented levels of coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. However, simply more coverage does not necessarily mean that sexism in sports media is decreasing. The problem is that the media often continues to use gendered reporting – focusing on women’s outfits, physiques, and other aspects of their lives that are rarely discussed with men.

If sport is to be an effective tool in development, particularly in addressing gender issues, then there has to be a change in how the media covers females in sports. As Donna A. Lopiano argues, “The media shapes the public's perceptions of the accomplishments of women playing sports and whether women in general can be strong, confident and highly skilled. The media also shapes the dreams and aspirations of girls”.

Recently there has been a strong push to change the conversation, with social media playing a particularly important role in including otherwise often silenced voices. One notable example is the #covertheathlete campaign, which is based around a video that poses questions that female athletes have been asked and pairs them with the baffled responses of male athletes (taken from different contexts).

On a similar note, the “This Girl Can” campaign in the UK is allowing women and girls to tell their own stories, highlighting what they find important about the activities they do. The #Like A Girl campaign is also trying to change the conversation by fighting the stereotypes of what it means to run or throw “like a girl”.

All of these campaigns are using the media and social media to change how women in sports are being portrayed. As such they are converting a platform that has all too often been used to denigrate female athletes into a form of empowerment and a call for change.


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Sibylle Freiermuth


Wednesday, November 25, 2015 - 16:00