The demise of women’s sport

Coverage is becoming increasingly male-dominated thanks to football and Formula One – and women are going along with it.

Stars like Steffi Graf, pictured at the 1996 French Open, appear to be becoming extinct from the game [GALLO/GETTY]

What has happened to female tennis?

In the late nineties, the female stars of the sport were as heralded and respected as their male counterparts.

An array of fascinating players dominated our screens and newspapers; there was the cute and bubbly Martina Hingis, the surprisingly sexy Steffi Graf, the Ryan Giggs of her sport Martina Navratilova and the powerhouse Jennifer Capriati.

The passion, the power, the pleasure of the female form on the court was there for all to see.

Today many of us would struggle to name the top women’s stars competing in the French Open (and not just because their names are rather tricky to say).

Somewhere along the line we lost our interest in the slower and more tactical female game and started to embrace the serve-driven game of the men.

In fact, women sport stars in general seem to be slipping off the public radar and into a black hole. While we know who the fastest male runner in the world is at the moment, how many people could name the world’s fastest female?

Blame game

I can’t help think that the ‘beautiful game’ is somewhat to blame for all this.

The domination of football in the media has led to the development of a more chauvinistic and blinkered attitude towards women’s sport.

With the growing popularity of the English Premier League and Formula One, the media is seemingly moving towards an era where women are no longer welcome on the sports pages. 

This anti-female attitude is not only rubbing off on men, but on women.  

“It is hardly surprising my respect for women’s sport has disappeared since I am being brainwashed by a male-dominated sports media who have lost the ability to appreciate the subtleties and huge potential of women’s sport”

Jo Tilley

I now find myself cringing when I hear people talk about women’s football (although I play it) and changing channel as soon as I realise it’s women on Centre Court, not men.

Over the years I have become increasingly intolerant of my gender’s attempts to compete. I am now ‘the man who tuts when hearing women receive the same prize winnings as men at Wimbledon.
It is hardly surprising my respect for women’s sport has disappeared since I am being brainwashed by an egotistical male-dominated sports media who have lost the ability to appreciate the subtleties and huge potential of women’s sport.

Many sports journalists would rather eat every page of print journalism ever produced than use the back page to cover a Women’s Super League (that’s football, by the way) match. And I don’t blame them. 

But an important question to consider is whether women’s sport is not as interesting as men’s, or whether we have made it that way.

This week two British women demonstrated exactly what we are missing in letting football dominate our media.

Pippa Mann drove her Conquest racing car at an average of 224mph to become the first British woman to line up in the Indianapolis 500.

It was an incredible feat for a woman who moved to Indianapolis to pursue her dream of racing in the biggest motor race in the United States.

At the French Open, 19-year-old Heather Watson became the first British woman to reach the second round in 17 years.

Watson beaming out at us from the back page was a fleeting insight into what our sports pages could look like if things were different. 

Token gestures
Watson’s feat might have been met with some enthusiasm by the British media, but quite often female sports stories are token gestures doled out by publications who want to meet quotas.

The fact there are so few remaining female stars makes this as understandable as it is depressing.    

Sports headlines such as the London Evening Standard‘s “Partner urges Turkey boss to replace sacked Ancelotti because she’s missing London shops” certainly doesn’t help the cause of sportswomen.

Not only are journalists ignoring their sporting feats but they are now using the sports pages to belittle women and associate them with anything but sport.

The problem with having a football-obsessed nation is that the public are missing out on a woman’s natural ability to entertain – whether it is Mann’s brutish determination to succeed in a man’s world or young Watson’s hopeful ambition.

Female sports stories will only be bland if they are written so – and with the injection of scandal and rivalry they can, believe it or not, be just as interesting as the latest swearword Rooney has screamed into the camera or the latest scandal at FIFA.

For the UK, the London 2012 Olympic Games provides a wonderful opportunity to start balancing out our sports coverage by highlighting the female sports stars of the future.

It is crucial we do this sooner rather than later, before our disenchantment with women (who dare to believe their sport is worth being reported on) becomes too powerful to overturn.

Source: Al Jazeera