Women’s Sports Coverage

There might, of course, be a higher demand for female sports journalists if women’s sport were higher up the news agenda, with editors choosing to assign female reporters to cover women’s teams.

As it stands, female teams at both club and international level remain chronically underrepresented in British media. A report by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found that a meagre 5% of sports media coverage focused on female teams or athletes.

Women’s football has certainly benefited from increased coverage in recent years, with England’s quarter final against France shown on BBC Two in 2011.

Nevertheless, reporting on the semi-professional women’s leagues remains limited to the occasional photo in the newspapers.
‘Sometimes I think the women’s game gets a bit extra of a leg up because of the success and popularity of football in general’, admits O’Neill. ‘Then again, women’s football is the third biggest participation sport in England and yet men’s Rugby Union and men’s Rugby League get more media coverage’.

The same problems arise in the coverage given to women’s rugby teams. Despite winning the Six Nations for seven years in a row and reaching three consecutive world cup finals, the England women’s team struggles to secure media exposure.

‘Whilst the male rugby union team hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and blown out of all proportion, the female rugby team barely gets a mention despite all their successes,’ points out Osborne.

Perilously low interest from corporate advertisers is one of the main issues behind the limited public profile of many women’s sports. No money means no publicity, fewer supporters and thus far less interest from broadcasters and publications alike.

Attempts by Sport Magazine to produce a flip edition, with half of the issue covering solely female athletes, failed after a matter of weeks because of a lack of corporate interest.

We really struggled and that’s how we make our money. So if I cant prove to the editor that it’s commercially viable, we’re not going to do it, which is a real shame,’ explains Shepherd.

Future

There are a host of archaic and damaging assumptions that need shattering before female sports writers secure the respect and presence they deserve.

Female sports journalists needn’t be restricted to perceived ‘girlier’ sports, they are just as capable of reporting as their male counterparts and are no less informed or passionate about their industry.

The sooner these messages are absorbed by those at the top end of sports journalism, the easier it will be for the next generation of female sports journalists to make their mark. The rest, of course, is down to them.

Broadcast Sports Journalists

When it comes to television, channels such as the BBC and Sky News have made significant strides in recent years, with far more female faces featuring in their sports coverage.

At the BBC, Clare Balding has established as one of the iconic faces to report on horse racing and rugby league for the BBC, as well as covering Winter Games, Paralympic Games and Commonwealth Games.

Sonja McLaughlan is another BBC face to carve out a successful career for herself in a traditionally testosterone-dominated sport rugby union. Her role as one of the BBC’s key rugby reporters has seen her interview some of the most famous names in world rugby at several Six Nations tournaments.

 

Even flagship football programme Match of the Day, a show which had never had a woman grace its broadcasts, opened its doors to female commentators in 2007 with the arrival of Jacqui Oatley. Her debut reporting stint on the programme certainly provoked online controversy at having a female voiceover to football highlights.‘Perhaps a woman’s voice clashes with the roar of the crowd, particularly in exciting moments, complained one viewer. It pierces and spoils, when a commentator should compliment what’s on the field.

At Sky News, meanwhile, Jacquie Beltrao presents the sports news alongside a host of male colleagues, whilst Orla Chennaoui is heading up the channel’s Olympic coverage as an Olympic Correspondent.

However, as freelance sports broadcast journalist Natalie Osborne points out, some women feel they need to change their reporting styles to try and find in with what they perceive to be the ‘Females who attempt to enter broadcast journalism, be it on TV or radio, do tend to sound like a lad to fit in rather than just being natural,’ she suggests.

I enjoy rugby and I want people to enjoy the work I produce but I will not try and pretend to be anything other than what I am. People either like the way I present sport or not I will not make myself sound like a lad just to fit in’.

There may also be some resentment against women trying to enter the industry on account of a lack of experience as a professional athlete.

I hear a lot of muttering where the general consensus is that if you have not played the sport to a professional level then you should not be talking about it,’ says Osborne. ‘Female sports are still not being taken seriously so why should female sports journalists?