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Women’s sport treated differently in Olympic TV coverage, study finds

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Liz Draper
WVoN co-editor

Female athletes often get the blunt end of the stick when it comes to media coverage.

From the BBC’s hesitance to show women’s football matches on primetime TV, to the everlasting debate over the competitiveness of women’s tennis – women’s sports are rarely taken as seriously as men’s.

Every four years, though, female athletes of all disciplines enjoy attention and respect equal to that lavished on their male teammates.

However, US research published last month found that the Olympic ideal of equality does not extend to television coverage.

Professor James Angelini of the University of Delaware analysed all 64 hours of American network NBC’s coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and found several key differences in the way men’s and women’s sports were depicted.

In terms of time allocation, men received more than three fifths of the air time for single gender sports. Men also accounted for 75 per cent of the most mentioned athletes.

Further, sportscasters also framed men’s and women’s successes and failures in different ways.

Male athletes’ achievements were more frequently attributed to athletic ability and commitment to sport, whereas women’s successes were more likely to be put down to luck.

When female athletes failed, their physical ability and commitment were questioned, whereas men’s failures were presented in the context of their competitors’ success.

In a previous study, Angelini and his team analysed footage of the 2008 Beijing games, with similar findings.

Commentators have already raised the treatment of women’s sports during London 2012.

On only the first day of the Games, Marina Hyde of the Guardian noted that the scantily clad female dancers and Benny Hill music played to entertain spectators at the beach volleyball were unlikely to lend gravitas to the sport.

Similarly, in an awkward press conference earlier this week, cyclist Victoria Pendleton was asked by a journalist whether her Australian rival Anna Meares was a cow. It is hard to imagine Mark Cavendish being asked to use similar language to refer to any of his rivals.

Angelini and his team will be continuing their research at the London Games.

“The British broadcasts will probably be a bit more balanced than the American broadcasts on NBC,” Angelini said. “It won’t be fully equitable, but I think it may be better.”

Let’s hope London can overcome these early blips and prove him right.

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