A Shining Summer for Women’s Sport – Yet Still Greatly Underpaid and Under-Promoted in Comparison to the Men.
As Guardian journalist Marina Hyde recently pointed out, it has been a truly watershed summer for women’s sport. Commencing on July 23rd, the ICC Women’s World Cup was clinched by Heather Knight’s side in a dramatic defeat of India at Lord’s in front of a 26,500-strong crowd.
This well-deserved victory by the World Number 2’s was closely followed by an inspirational performance by the Lionesses against Holland in the Euros semi-final. Despite narrowly missing out on a place in the final, women’s football has never had a higher profile and drew in a record viewing figure of 4 million. Last but not least in a record-breaking summer for women’s sport, England’s rugby team attempted to defend their world championship title against New Zealand. In another dramatic encounter and enthralling display of power and passion, England’s women, although denied a victory, attracted 2.6 million viewers to ITV’s live coverage of a truly special time for women’s sport in the UK.
A fourth historic moment for England’s women came in the form of a bronze medal at the Lacrosse World Cup in late July. Team England’s Torz Anderson recounts the experience of a lifetime in a PrettyGreen Guest Blog published in August, describing the deafening roar of a 2,000-strong home crowd and the indescribable feeling of excitement and sheer disbelief after clinching victory over Australia.
These four tournaments provided moments which had the ability to captivate and inspire a nation, the magnitude of which cannot be underplayed in a world where men’s sport has dominated the hearts and minds of British people for decades. Whilst at PrettyGreen we deem any narratives which cast women’s sport in direct comparison to the men’s version as an act to constantly keep women’s sport down, it is important to highlight one main disparity.
Women’s sport in the UK over the last five years boasts considerably greater achievements across corresponding world tournaments than their male counterparts. Let’s take a look at a few sports as an example.
- Cricket: England’s women won the ICC World Cup in 2017, whereas England’s men received heavy criticism after exiting their 2015 World Cup during the group stages.
- Football: The Lionesses reached the Euros 2017 and World Cup 2015 semi-finals, in comparison to England’s men knocked out in the group stages in Brazil in 2014 and suffering a heavy loss to Iceland in the Euros 2016 quarter-final.
- Hockey: GB women’s hockey team won a sensational Olympic gold in Rio, whereas GB men failed to qualify for the quarter-finals.
- Rugby: England’s women reached the World Cup 2017 final to miss out narrowly to New Zealand, in comparison to the men’s shock exit at the 2015 World Cup – becoming the first ever host team to be knocked out at the pool stages.
These comparisons should not be regarded as an attack on British men’s sporting successes, but rather as a tool to effectively highlight and celebrate the undeniable rise of women’s sport in the UK. Although these triumphs have achieved greater recognition and coverage in the media than ever before, the three tournaments this summer still had to fight for space with the Lions tour, the Test series against South Africa, the World Athletics Championships, and, of course, those all-important football transfer stories. As indicated by the Guardian’s Andy Bull, a Women In Sport’s recent survey found that:
- Women’s sport only made up 7% of all sports coverage in the UK
- Making up 10% of TV coverage
- 5% of radio coverage
- 4% of online coverage
- 2% of newspaper coverage.
These scathing statistics indicate the wider problem of a lack of commercial investment into women’s sport in Britain. It has become a vicious cycle in which a lack of sponsorship leads to no exposure, and without the necessary marketing, women’s sport won’t get the exposure that would successfully increase the demand for coverage and make it attractive to investors.
The resulting disparity in media coverage in the UK has recently been coupled with the exposure of sport’s vast gender pay gap despite the growing profile of women’s sport. Whilst a recent study conducted by the BBC into 68 different sports showed that 83% of sports now give men and women equal prize money, a considerable and unjustifiable gap still exists.
One of the greatest disparities is still apparent between football’s World Cup prize money, which came in at a whopping £576m for men in 2014 in comparison to a mere £15m for women in 2015.
Barbara Slater, BBC’s first female Director of Sport, has recently spoken out against critics and announced that women’s sport makes up 30% of BBC’s coverage. While Sky has also demonstrated its commitment to broadcasting women’s sport by providing coverage of women’s cricket Super League, England Women’s Six Nations games and some netball internationals. However, despite this feeling that change is underway, there is still much progress to be made.
Following on from an enthralling summer of women’s sport, now is the time for women’s sport to be taken seriously and afforded the attention that it deserves. Marina Hyde shrewdly suggested that to break the spiral of an endemic lack of media coverage and build a real legacy this summer, everyone involved in men’s sport must push harder and do more to elevate women’s sport. In the words of Michelle Obama – “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through the doorway of opportunity do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed”.
Now is the time for the media to utilise their powerful platform, actively strengthen the progress that is already happening, and break the vicious cycle once and for all.