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Women’s sporting success ignored again

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Lack of media coverage of women’s sport a self-perpetuating cycle.

On 7 January 2013, Abby Wambach of the USA won the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year 2012 award.

This news did not make national or international media headlines. What did make the headlines was the predicted result of Lionel Messi winning his fourth consecutive Ballon d’Or.

Such lack of media coverage typifies the current situation – only five per cent of sports media coverage is of women’s sport.

An online search for the winner of the women’s footballer of the year competition brought up football-specific websites. Other than a BBC headline from the previous year’s award, none of the major national or international news outlets were on the first page of search results.

The majority of the coverage of the women’s competition appeared to be from sport-specific websites.

An additional search that included the names of various UK media outlets and the phrase ‘women’s player of the year’ brought up a much larger number of results – about Lionel Messi.

It is obvious from the need to tag sports coverage of women’s events with the word ‘women’s’ that the norm is male.

When headlines ask ‘Who is the best footballer in the world?’, there is no doubt that the question is being asked about male athletes. Messi was actually crowned the best male footballer in the world, not best footballer.

Unfortunately, the lack of media coverage of women’s sports is proving to be a very difficult cycle to break. When there is no coverage, it is difficult to increase audience numbers and interest in the sport. With no easily accessible role models to inspire audiences, it is difficult to build a dedicated following. Without established and vocal supporters, there are no financial incentives for investors and media outlets to increase their support and coverage.

The BBC is supposed to be hiring a women’s sports editor, which may be a small step towards more comprehensive and consistent coverage of women’s sports.

Women make up only three per cent of sports journalists, which many believe to have affected the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist – an all-male list chosen by 27 newspaper and magazine sport editors.

Following the outcry that the all-male list provoked, the BBC acknowledged the problem, reviewed its shortlisting process and introduced an expert panel with three positions reserved for national press editors.

Female athletes were then duly recognised with five women on the 12-person shortlist in 2012.

Change does seem to be happening, but probably far more slowly than fans of women’s sports teams would like.

With football the most popular participatory sport for women and girls in Britain, many believe this industry could lead the way in opening doors to increased funding and media coverage of women’s sports in general.

In October 2012, the FA announced its Game Changer plan to develop women’s professional football with £3.5 million of investment over five years.

The figure seems paltry when compared to men’s football salaries that consistently reach £100,000 a week, but in this case is better than nothing.

As part of the Game Changer plan, for the first time the FA has a commercial development programme for women’s football, which could be significant in influencing media coverage of the sport.

Additionally, the BBC recently secured broadcast rights for every match in the 2013 UEFA Women’s European Championship.

This year will be an interesting one for women’s sports fans as they wait to see if the 2012 Olympic legacy is strong enough to improve the quantity and quality of media coverage of women’s sport.

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