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The Women's Sports Foundation - The campaign for coverage

The under-representation of sportswomen in all forms of media, together with the under-representation of women involved in the production of sport-related media, has long been of concern to those trying to increase the visibility of women's sport.

We know that:

Television, radio and the print media play a crucial role in informing our knowledge, opinions and attitudes about sport and about women in sport.

There is a key role to be played by the media in raising the public profile of women's sport, highlighting role models and encouraging participation.

At the moment:

Television coverage of women's sport makes up only between 0.5% and 6% of all sports coverage, according to the latest research reported by Sport England 1993.

Following a six-week research period in 2001, the Women's Sports Foundation found that women's sport received 2.9% of sports coverage in the national tabloid press: 1,564 photographs of sportsmen were shown, compared to just 36 for women over the same period.

It is quite usual to find no coverage of any women's sport in the entire sports section of national newspapers.

The major terrestrial and satellite television channels prioritise men's sport over women's sport.

Women are under-represented in all aspects of sports news production, including journalism, photography, broadcasting and presenting.


There is still continued disparity between the coverage of men and women's sport. This happens despite an explosion in print and broadcast media opportunities in the UK, an unprecedented number of dedicated sports broadcasters and the presence of public service broadcasting

Poor media coverage results in poorer levels of sponsorship dedicated to women's sport. It also contributes to the lack of diverse, high profile role models for young women and sportswomen of the future.

Media coverage does not always focus on a sportswoman's positive points. Lack of focus on athleticism, skill and achievements in favour of physical appearance, personal life or lifestyle combine to undermine the status of women in sport.

The campaign…

The campaign for coverage is a six-month campaign from the Women's Sports Foundation. Our aims are to:

  • further examine the current positioning of women's sport in the media
  • raise awareness of disparities where they exist
  • ask questions about the causes and consequences of the imbalance
  • propose ideas for taking forward a more balanced approach to sports coverage.

While we concentrate on galvanising a wide number of distinct activities over the campaign period, we know that we are not be able to find all the solutions within six months. Nor will we change the minds of media professionals overnight or change the culture of the media in the UK overnight. However, we feel that the issue is too important to ignore and at the Women's Sports Foundation we want to start the debate, not shy away from it.

The allied activity and the event

The campaign consists of a series of allied and complementary activities.

We have undertaken several evidence-gathering exercises, which include:

  • desk research
  • a literature review
  • a month-long analysis of the coverage of women's sport across a cross-section of the UK media
  • a working group of media/press managers from national governing bodies of sport
  • in-depth interviews with key professionals within the media.

We have also worked with a partner research company, VisionTwentyOne, to gather data based on public opinion.

This research combines to produce a report that we intend to launch at a media event at The Oval on 19 November 2003. We have to produced some challenging findings and strong messages not only about the current state of imbalance within current media sports coverage, but also the aspirations for the future from sportswomen and men and from members of the public.

At the same time, this activity is supported by allied press and public relations work, parliamentary activity and lobbying with significant decision-makers. The research report is a critical tool in this. We have already established supporters in both the House of Commons and the Lords, and we are in the process of arranging Parliamentary Questions, Early Day Motion's and debates on the poor coverage of women's sport in the respective houses.

The focus is on the renewal of the BBC charter (scheduled for 2006) and seek to include sport within the BBC's commitment to balanced and representative broadcasting.

The campaign coincides with the launch of the Women's Sports Foundation's new corporate identity and new website. We will use our website to align much of our high level policy influencing work, with complementary campaigning and lobbying at grass roots level.

The event

The flagship event for the campaign is a high profile debate in the Long Room of The Oval cricket ground in London on 19 November 2003. The event brings together key influencers, decision-makers and stakeholders within sports broadcasting and sports management. Crucially, it gives a voice to sports people themselves. We have secured Eleanor Oldroyd to chair the event, and a high profile panel and speakers.

The purpose

There are three main objectives:

  1. To launch the research report and its findings, and raise awareness of the campaign for coverage.
  2. To bring together sportswomen and men and decision-makers in sport and sports media for an opportunity to debate the way forward for the coverage of women's sport in the UK.
  3. To raise awareness of the work of the Women's Sports Foundation and launch its new corporate identity and website.

In the limited time available the event does not aspire to conjure up solutions to all the current problems of sports coverage in the media. However, by keeping the delegate numbers to between 60 and 100 we hope to create the atmosphere and capacity for interactive and significant debate.

The nature of the delegates will be such that they have some power to influence the future of women's sports coverage in their own capacity over a longer period of time. We intend to nurture those relationships in order to achieve that goal.

The first part of the event highlights the implications of the current situation for the future of British sport and for today's young women. One or two sportswomen discuss their own personal experience of having no female mentors or role models to follow, about not being able to find basic results information in the news, and then, after reaching the highest level in their sport, about their anonymity, financial disadvantage and lack of recognition.

A government minister or senior official is to speak briefly about the research results, about the serious implications for the future of British sport, and about the urgent need to use all means available to engage more girls and young women in sport.

The second session is an opportunity for the audience to ask questions of a panel of media representatives. There is at least one representative from radio and the press, and one or possibly two from television.

The speakers and panel members confirmed to date are Sue Mott, Sue Campbell, Barbara Slater and Bob Shennan.

The finale is an upbeat speech looking towards an optimistic future.

Delegates are senior decision-makers, politicians, media professionals and sportswomen and men.

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