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Sport
What has a sportswoman got to do?
A women-free shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year is a call to arms, writes Joanna Tilley.
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2011 17:01
Not a contender? In October Britain’s Chrissie Wellington won her fourth Ironman World Title. That's 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile cycle and full marathon in eight hours, 55 mins and eight seconds of pain [GALLO/GETTY]

If you are a woman who loves sport, now is the time to get on your soap box and make a great big song and dance about it.

It is time the male-dominated sports media were awoken from their pre-21st century slumber.

“Wakey, wakey!” “Rise and shine!”

Women are sick and tired of being ignored by your male-driven daily scribbles.

Although it was disappointing to see the British Broadcasting Company fail to include a single woman in their shortlist for the 2011 Sports Personality of the Year, it was equally predictable.

The sad truth is that women are not ‘sports personalities’ anymore. With the sports pages increasingly dictated by football, women have lost the media’s backing and support. Female sports personalities are a dying breed with the public kept in the dark about the women who dedicate their lives to the sports they love.

Not many people have heard of world champions Rebecca Adlington, Katherine Grainger and Kerri-Anne Payne, and this is why they failed to make it on to the shortlist. Their water-based accomplishments drown in each media storm around the latest FIFA scandal or Chelsea result.

However, while sportswomen are angry about this, really angry in some cases – it is action, not anger, that can help to change this sad situation. The silver-lining is that the absence of women in the BBC shortlist gives women (and hopefully also some men) the chance to publicise the raw deal sportswomen (and female sports fans) are being dealt by the British media.

It also gives us the chance, as several leading British sportswomen have already done, to criticise the BBC’s twisted nomination process for their 2011 Sports Personality of the Year.  

Just a quick glance at proceedings reveals a shoddy system that is indicative of the way women’s sport is treated in this country. The BBC hands over the nomination process to 27 newspaper and magazine editors.

There are two problems with this method. Firstly, all the editors are men. Secondly, and more crucially, the British print media lags behind the BBC and Sky Sports’ attitude towards women in sport.

Sports journalists at The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Sun are predominantly male, and many yet to grasp the concept that both women and men want to see more female sports coverage. In fact, research carried out in 2010 showed more than 60% of UK sports fans would like to see more women's sports.

While most areas of the media, and society, work hard to achieve more equality for women, sports journalism is allowed to move backwards.

It’s Nuts

Swimming world champion Rebecca Adlington - enough brand power to attract major sponsors but still no award nomination [GALLO/GETTY]

So who were the chosen publications voting for the Sports Personality of the Year?  

Reading down the list I was greeted by the usual suspects: The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph. Then I saw a couple of words and gaped in horror. Nuts and Zoo Magazine... The plot had thickened.

It turns out that the well-respected BBC, which prides itself on equality and fairness, is relying on ‘sports experts’ at lad mags to identify their Sports Personality of the Year.

For those not familiar with the delights of Nuts or Zoo, these publications focus on a woman’s more superficial assets.

The sports editors at both establishments spend their days pondering which girl’s breasts deserve to go on their front cover. Women deserve a right to participate in sport but only if they are playing topless tennis.

The BBC should be embarrassed. They should be ashamed that, for even the briefest moment, they considered a lad’s magazine worthy of selecting a sport figure who can act as a positive role model in society. Ashamed they entrusted such a decision to publications that undress women rather than address their sporting accomplishments.

Is it too much to ask for a little common sense?  Former world champion Karen Pickering offered some in her reaction to the BBC’s 2011 shortlist.

She claimed the nomination process should shift from using sports editors to letting past winners of the award decide the shortlist that goes before the British public. 

But instead of this view gaining support it will more likely leave people asking: who is Karen Pickering?

Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News, LBC Radio. Sportasylum.com, TNT Down Under and Wanderlust magazine.

Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, sportjostyleeee.blogspot.com.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Al Jazeera
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