The success of female athletes at London 2012 has prompted a fresh look at women’s sport.
It was the women of Team GB who stole the show in the early days of the competition when the press and public were thirsting for medals, and they went on to produce some of the most iconic moments of the Games: Jessica Ennis’s heptathlon gold will be etched on our collective memories for ever.
Of the nine hours of footage on the BBC’s Olympics highlights DVD out next month, it will be fascinating to see how prominently sportswomen feature. What the Games proved is that the distinction between male and female sport is rapidly becoming outmoded. It didn’t matter to us whether we were watching men’s or women’s cycling, it was just great cycling.
Nevertheless, we rarely get an option to view purely women’s sport. According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF), just 5% of sport’s media coverage is given to women’s sport in non-Olympic years. The knock-on effect is that it’s also under promoted and underfunded.
A report from The Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport shows that sponsorship of women’s sport in the UK amounted to just 0.5%of the total spent between January 2010 and August 2011. This compares with 61.1% for men’s sport over the same period.
So 2012 has given focus, direction and exposure to the potential offered by women’s sport.
It’s highlighted its role in providing active role models for girls and young women, signalled missed commercial opportunities and proved there is the demand among viewers for alternative sports. A recent poll carried out for the WSFF by Ipsos Mori shows that 75% of respondents want more media coverage of women’s sport as a result of the Games.
So it was encouraging to hear George Entwistle tackle the issue in his first interview as DG, acknowledging it as “a real opportunity for the BBC”. We don’t yet know how the BBC will capitalise on it, but there’s certainly an argument that broadcasters should develop better packages of women’s sport and report it more routinely in their news coverage.
This was acknowledged last week by head of sport Barbara Slater at Broadcast’s MediaCityUK event. She pointed out that BBC news services have a role to play in bringing what have been marginal sports to the masses. Later that evening, BBC News at Ten reported the England women’s football team’s 3-0 victory over Croatia, securing their place at the Euros.
But it was an opportunity missed by CBBC, despite its current focus on trying to boost children’s participation in sport. The next morning’s Newsround featured Manchester United’s victory the night before, but carried no mention of the women’s team.
The omission, highlighted by Broadcast, was rectified later. Meanwhile, a survey announced the same day for an ITV Tonight special, Who Does Your Daughter Look Up To?, revealed that “one in five girls would rather marry a footballer than be a doctor”.
Personally, I look forward to the time when a survey asks how many girls would rather be a footballer than marry one.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast