The modern world has seen sports grow in popularity by leaps and bounds. One of the critical topics of conversation is sports, mainly when world competitions occur. The media has contributed immensely to popularising sports. It significantly impacts society, both positively and negatively, depending on how they portray the news.
Though sports help society grow, unfortunately, it also creates a divide when it comes to gender because of bias and stereotypes portrayed for each gender.
Gender inequality in sports has a long history marked by discrimination and struggle for women. Organisers restricted women’s participation in sports for a long time. Now, when there are so many female athletes, the male-dominated sports media around the globe keeps giving more visibility to male athletes as accomplished, influential individuals. On the contrary, the media portrays female athletes primarily for their appearance, age or family life rather than their athletic prowess.
For example, Maria Sharapova is a tennis star who has won major tournaments and is an extraordinary athlete. Still, some media focus on her physical appearance and refers to her as a ‘beautiful young blonde,’ ‘soft skin,’ and ‘flowing locks of hair,’ all of which relate nothing to her athletic skills.
Times have changed, but still, women face myriad challenges. Female athletes are photographed primarily in passive poses, contrasting their athletic talents and skills. On the other hand, male athletes are photographed mostly in action poses related to their sport.
Another classic example of bias is Serena Williams. She is not only one of the ‘best female athletes,’ but is one of the best athletes of all time. She has won 23 Grand Slams, Steffi Graff has 22, and Rafael Nadal has won 22. But if you search the internet for the athlete winning the most Grand Slams, Nadal’s name shows up. This shows how the world disregards the fact that a female athlete can be more successful than a male athlete.
One may ask why female athletes put up with this. Well, the lack of media coverage forces female athletes to do so to get at least some media coverage.
Though the number of women and girls of all ages in sports has gone up dramatically, women’s sports coverage gets just as little as before in the 1980s. Men’s sports have consistently been broadcasted more than women’s. Studies show that although 40 percent of all sports participants are women, women’s sports receive a limited coverage of only 4 percent. Even in those, their physical beauty is highlighted rather than their sporting skills. It’s only during the Olympics that women’s sports get some headlines. This imbalance in the quality and quantity of sports coverage for both genders is saddening.
During media interviews, men are asked about their skills and performance; on the contrary female athletes are questioned about their personal lives rather than their performance.
Moreover, if women outperform men in sports, people tend to believe that the woman has used ‘steroids’ or isn’t a ‘female’. This often leads to tests to prove that they are females and aren’t using any steroids.
During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, eight female athletes with XY chromosomes underwent testing and were ultimately confirmed as eligible to compete as women. To date, no mal athletes have experienced this sort of testing.
Furthermore, when females win, it’s suggested chiefly that men in their lives are behind their success. During the Olympics, when Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu won the gold medal with a new record, the commentator implied that her success was an outcome of her husband’s contribution.
The same gender bias is seen in media journalism for women.
‘I’m not a slut, I’m a journalist.’ This is the title of a documentary aired in France. The documentary featured female sports journalists about the disparity, sexual advances and harassment they had to face while working in the sports media.
An international Sports Press Survey in 2012 concluded that male journalists wrote more than 90 percent of the articles, and more than 85 percent of the articles focused on sportsmen. On the other hand, only 8 percent of the sports articles were written by female journalists. Among them, only 2 percent of female journalists covered news on sports. They mainly covered subjects like education, lifestyle, religion and health.
Though in recent times, sports broadcasting has become more accessible to women, there is still a noticeable gap. The number of women entering sports journalism is meagre since they are judged and given work based on their gender, are victims of sexual harassment and are not taken seriously.
Nick King, a sports anchor/reporter for 3TV/ CBS5 in Phoenix, claims he had seen a baseball coach disrespecting one of the female reporters and didn’t care to take her questions seriously. This work area remains male-dominated all over the world.
Sadly, women and girls also get fewer athletic opportunities, scholarships, and funds.
Another area of inequality is the pay difference between male and female athletes. Men make more money than their female counterparts. Due to the lack of media coverage of female athletes and their respective sports, viewers might find it boring and slower than male sports. That is an outcome of how the media popularises men’s sports.
In the case of prize money, female athletes also often get less than male athletes. Men earn way more than women playing in the same league or position. For instance, Pro league NBA male players are paid an average of 7.4 million dollars a year, whereas a female player earns less than 20 thousand dollars a year on average. It’s unfair to deprive female athletes when both genders work hard.
With an increase in media coverage of women’s sports, society may change its views about female athletes and may come to enjoy the games. Increased popularity and viewership will increase revenue and pay too.
Though there is a social movement for women’s empowerment in all spheres of life, we still need to catch up in creating equality between men and women. Gender inequality in sports, or anywhere, should not be tolerated. Society needs to change its mindset and celebrate women athletes as well. Both male and female athletes have the same passion, respect, skills and pride for the sports they play professionally. The time has come to change this aspect of our society and respect female athletes as they deserve.
The new generation should be exposed to both gender sports equally so that the present society’s bias towards female athletes may decrease and gradually disappear. Exposure to what women can achieve athletically will inspire young girls to take sports as a profession.
The media industry consciously or subconsciously promotes the belief that men are naturally superior to women in almost all spheres of life. For women in sports to take centre stage, a revolutionary shift in thinking, increased television coverage and radio; and media influences are necessary.
Sports media can play a huge role in promoting Gender Equality by giving balanced media coverage to both men’s and women’s sports. The highlights should be on the sport, not how women look. They are strong in their own way, and we must respect what they achieve through perseverance and grit. Women sports broadcasters should be given their due rights to show their full potential.
It’s time for the media to come out of this hypocritical mindset of patriarchal dominance and give the female population its due coverage.
[Tasneem Hossain is a multilingual poet, columnist, op-ed and fiction writer, translator and training consultant. She is the Director of Continuing Education Centre, Bangladesh.]
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2. Impact of Media on Gender Inequality in Sports, The University of British Columbia
3. Thomas, Joshua, Tennis’ top Grand Slam winners of all-time: Who has won the most titles?, The Sporting News, February , 2023