Shamik Das profiles some of the leading British sportswomen, asking why not one of them was nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2011.
Tonight the BBC Sports Personality of the Year will be announced, with one thing certain: The winner will be a man. Not one single British sportswoman was deemed worthy of nomination for the award – in part due to the shockingly poor media coverage of women’s sport, an issue we reported on in January.
The subject of the lack of coverage of women’s sport was brought up in Parliament last Thursday, during Culture, Media, Sport and Olympics Questions, with Tory MP Tracey Crouch asking sports minister Hugh Robertson:
“Does he agree with me that while women’s sport accounts for only five per cent of all sports coverage the profile of sportswomen will remain so low that not only does it mean that talented athletes don’t make it onto award lists like BBC Sports Personality of the Year, but it makes many of our best role models totally anonymous, thus making it harder to inspire and encourage women and girls to participate in sport and physical activity?”
That’s right, at the end of 2011, barely one twentieth of all sports stories are about women’s sport; as Chart 1 shows, this abysmal figure is the same low mark it was at the start of the year.
So, who are the leading British sportswomen who the sports media sideline, and the BBC have chosen to ignore for their prestigious prize?
Here are a few (that the sporting public will be largely unaware of) that could have graced the list:
Chrissie Wellington: Triathlete and four-time World Ironman Champion. Wellington will boycott tonight’s show in protest at the absence of women on the shortlist, and has urged other female athletes to do the same.
Hannah England: Middle distance runner, she was the 1500m runner-up at the World Athletics Championships in the summer, and is tipped to bring home gold at London 2012.
Rebecca Adlington: 400 and 800-metre freestyle swimmer, Double Olympic gold medalist at Beijing 2008 and one of the best hopes for gold in London this summer. This year at the World Championships she won 400-metre freestyle silver and 800-metre freestyle gold.
Beth Tweddle: Britain’s most successful gymnast ever, another one hotly tipped for gold at London 2012. In 2011 she won gold at the European Championships, following her gold at the World Championships a year earlier.
Katherine Grainger: Rower, another one to look out for at London 2012. In 2011, she won World Championship gold and World Cup gold.
Just six of the many British sportswomen who are the best in their disciplines, taking on and beating the world’s finest, doing Britain proud and some of the hottest prospects for gold in the London Olympics – not that you’ll have read too much about in the press or seen them on TV.
And it is with 2012 in mind that the real scandal of the lack of recognition of women’s sport is most evident; we are missing a golden once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enthuse the next generation of young women into sport, be it at elite level, semi-pro, club level or just playing for fun, for the sheer, unadulterated joy of it.
As Simon Barnes wrote in The Times (£) on Monday:
“Sport is about joy, but not necessarily the joy in victory… Sport is an immensely complex thing, but it all began with a childish simplicity: doing it is nice. Joy is a kick, a catch, a mighty blow, a leap, a glide, a gallop. Winning is great, too, but it’s not the reason sport began.”
On the eve of Olympic year, convincing the British sportswomen of the future of that simple truism will prove harder than ever with the all-male shortlist tonight.
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• Osborne’s mini-budget takes £1.7bn from women – Alex Hern, December 1st 2011
• More evidence Gideon’s savage attack on public sector pensions will hit women hardest – Nigel Stanley, November 21st 2011
• Boris is turning back the clock for women in London – Shelly Asquith, November 14th 2011
• The lack of women in Westminster has gone on for too long – Nan Sloane, October 25th 2011
• Why is there such little coverage of women’s sport? – Shamik Das, January 24th 2011