Why is there such little coverage of women’s sport?

In the wake of the Andy Gray/Richard Keys controversy, Shamik Das looks at the lack of coverage of women's sport and asks if the media is institutionally sexist.

Sexism in sport is back in the news following Andy Gray and Richard Keys’s remarks about female assistant referee Sian Massey on Saturday – with the pair suspended by Sky Sports from their team for Chelsea’s visit to Bolton tonight. Criticism has been fierce and widespread, England captain Rio Ferdinand describing their views as “prehistoric”, and vice chair of West Ham Karren Brady saying the comments made her “blood boil”.

The question “Is sexism still rife in football?” has been widely debated today, yet will no doubt soon ebb away, just as it did five years ago when then Luton boss Mike Newell derided the appointment of a female assistant referee as “tokenism for the politically-correct idiots”; the underlying attitutes remain, and will do so for as long as the authorities, and in particular the media, fail to treat women in sport with respect and accord women’s sport the coverage it deserves.

Take today, and look at the coverage of women’s sport in the nation’s leading press and broadcast media. Below is a chart showing the number of links and headline stories by gender in the sports homepages of the Telegraph, Times, Indy, Guardian, Mail, Express, Mirror, Sun, BBC Sport and Sky Sports (snapshot taken at 1600hrs):

And those few stories that there are about women are almost all about the Australian Open, one of the handful of sports (if not the only one) in which there is parity between the sexes in pay, coverage and respect. In any other week, expect the tallies to have been even lower.

The more women involved in sport, the more participating, watching, enjoying sport, and working in the media, the less likely we are to see the outbursts of dinosaurs like Keys and Gray. At school, as I reported last year during the school sports funding debate, the gap between male and female participation has closed fast and is now minimal. The ‘PE and Sport Survey 2009/10‘ revealed 77% of girls and 79% of boys played intra-school competitive sport, with 46% of girls and 52% of boys playing inter-school competitive sport – yet at pro-level, the difference widens to a chasm.

One more example: England and Australia are battling it out for the Ashes in Sydney at the moment, needing nine more wickets to win, Australia requiring another 169 runs… but as it’s the women’s teams, you’re unlikely to be aware of it, and it’s doubtful there’ll be MBEs all round, an open-top bus parade and invite to Downing Street should they do it. Is the sports media institutionally sexist? Maybe not, but it sure looks like it.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.