Only 1.8% of sport articles are written by women – so much for progress – The Guardian

Amid the acres of coverage about England’s win over South Africa in the rugby autumn test last weekend, there was no mention at all of the player appearing on the international stage for the 115th time, becoming England’s most-capped player in the process.

How to explain this editorial oversight, especially as the player scored the opening try in the game that made her a record-breaker? Unless of course the pronoun gives the game away: the fact that Rochelle Clark became England’s most capped player with last weekend’s 12-10 win over Ireland, beating Jason Leonard’s 114 caps.

The 35-year’s success did merit stories by the BBC and other broadcasters and the odd round-up paragraph in print. But it was easily missed in the effusive discussions of Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One victory in Brazil or Gareth Southgate’s strange desire to manage the England football team.

Ignoring women’s sport is nothing new, but this year was meant to be different. Women, lauded in the London Olympics in 2012, accounted for 48% of all the medals won by Team GB at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics this year. The hockey world cup final even delayed the 10pm news on the BBC while the Guardian put a women’s football cup final on its front page.

Yet when the Guardian decided to analyse newspaper coverage during the one week a year dedicated to showcasing women’s sport, it found that men still overwhelmingly dominated sports coverage in national newspapers during Women’s Sports Week.

Research carried out by myself and journalist Chris Owen found that just 2% of all articles were written by women during the week while fewer than 4% of pictures featured them.

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Apart from a handful of sportswomen such as Maria Sharapova, in the news because of a return to tennis after a drugs ban, the female partners of male sportsmen were almost as likely to appear in photos as sportswomen during the week in October.

The pictures of the wives and girlfriends of the US Ryder Cup team, which showed golfer Rickie Fowler on his own surrounded by team-mates kissing their partners, was one of the most popular pictures including women during the week. It appeared six times in the week. The Sun ran the headline “No birdies, Rick?”, the Telegraph chose “Victory sealed with a kiss”, and the Mail opted for “Rickie is left out of the pairings”. The Times included a numbered chart labelling each golfer and partner.

2016 Ryder Cup


Golfer Rickie Fowler on his own surrounded by team-mates kissing their partners at the 2016 Ryder Cup. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Women’s Sports Week was launched by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2015, with the backing of sports charities such as Women in Sport and major broadcasters Sky and the BBC. It is designed to encourage women and girls to take part in and even work in sports.

A lack of coverage results in a vicious cycle with women’s sports making up 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK, including television, but receiving just 0.4% of reported UK sponsorship deals between September 2011 and December 2013, according to Women in Sport research.

Encouraged by government intervention and possibly previous accusations of sexism (pace Andy Gray and Richard Keys), broadcasters have increased their coverage of women’s sports over the past two years. Sky Sports already runs a weekly women’s sports show, put women’s sport on every hourly news bulletin throughout the week and launched a Facebook page focused on sportswomen. The BBC has a women’s sport calendar and a women’s football site, and featured women’s sports prominently throughout the week on TV and radio.

What’s more, the BBC and others report great viewing figures for women’s sports such as the football highlights show and the Olympic final for the women’s hockey.

None of this is making any difference to national newspapers, however. The figures for the eight national newspapers that cover sport on a daily basis and their Sunday sister titles found that just 20 of 1,111 bylines were female, with 1,067 male and the remaining 24 articles written by press agencies (and therefore genderless).

Of the 1899 pictures across all seven days, 1,750 were of men and 65 of women (the remaining 84 were either mixed or genderless).

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The Telegraph included dedicated features with a Women’s Sport Week tag in print. One spread, written by sportswomen such as swimmer Rebecca Adlington and footballer Casey Stoney across pages 16 and 17 of a 20-page supplement, provided five of the Telegraph’s six female bylines in the week.

Seven women wrote in the Times during the week and five in the Guardian, while the Express and the Mirror had no female bylines at all.

Other weeks in the year were no better, with previous research by City University and Women in Journalism highlighting the inequality, particularly when it comes to sports journalism.

The use of images is in some ways even more sexist. Even without the Ryder cup coverage, the two women who made the most appearances during Women’s Sport Week across the sports pages of the Mail, Express, Sun, Mirror, Times, Telegraph, Guardian and i were tennis players Sharapova and Johanna Konta.

Sharapova, who appeared 22 times, was usually photographed wearing day or smart wear rather than sports attire.

To be fair, Konta, who became the first British woman in 32 years to break into the world top 10 after reaching the final of the China Open, appeared either on the back page of the paper or the front page of a sports supplement of the i, the Telegraph, the Times and the Daily Mail.

Byline and picture counting is a blunt tool, of course, but the issue is not just quantitative but qualitative, and spreads throughout all sports reporting. John Inverdale caused outrage on social media when he called Andy Murray the first person to win two tennis gold medals, prompting Murray to remind him that women play tennis too, while coverage of both the UK’s gold-medal winning dressage rider Charlotte DuJardin and Chinese diver He Zi focused on marriage proposals rather than their medals.

We all love a good story, but these women had just succeeded in winning medals after years and years of hard work. Was it not a bit of a shame that they were deemed far more successful for having “won” a husband?

If that’s the only coverage we deem women warrant, our media has much to answer for. Ruth Holdaway, the chief executive of Women in Sport, likes to say that these attitudes are ingrained by decades of media images. When we see a detergent ad featuring a football-playing girl dumping her muddy kit for her father to gleefully wash, then we can celebrate real change.

  • Additional research by Chris Owen

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