Sportswomen on TV

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Monaco held a conference called Sportel, based on sports and television this week. One the hot topics was the presence of sportswomen on TV.

Anita de Frantz, who works with the IOC, said “there’s a difference in the way the media treat female sports. For example when they speak about a sportswoman, they often use the first name but the men are called by their surname.” She’s got a point although it’s clearly not a universal rule of sports broacasting. “It’s a way to avoid taking women seriously, to infantilise them. Tennis commentators talk of Serena and Venus, when they more often talk about Federer or Nadal“.

Cycling fans might be forgiven for thinking chance would be a fine thing, to hear “Jeannie”, “Emma” or “Judith” mentioned on the airwaves just once would be an advance, yet alone Longo, Pooley or Arndt. The conference also highlighted just how few women occupy other roles, such as sports journalists or in the governing bodies. This applies to cycling, for example the UCI’s Management Committee has 20 members, all male and the typical press room is far from 50/50. More like 100/0.

Things are slowly equalising in cycling, women’s cycling is growing in popularity and finally the 2012 Olympics will see a parity of medals between men and women, although at the expense of some of the track events. There’s a long way to go but conferences like this at least allow the numbers to be aired so we can measure the progress.

Neil October 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

Serena and Venus might be a bit tricky to tell apart if you called them both Williams. I watch a lot of tennis and during the match they'll call them Williams where there is only one of them playing.

TheInnerRing October 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

Good point on the shared surname. I edited the summary but it referenced other examples of women tennis players being called by their first names. It's not a rule, just an indication.

Closer to cycling, it looks like women's cycling is growing fast with new teams arriving and more and more coverage.

I'm standing on risky ground when I say I prefer the mens sport (because of the history, the calendar and more) but really hope the women's side can continue to grow.

OperaRunner October 13, 2010 at 10:55 am

I think the womens side if cycling (or any sport) will get equal treatment when what us valued most by our western society is also equal. Thats prize money. IRS equal in tennis and it's equal in marathon running and triathlon. Chrissie and Crowie, MACCA and Mirinda, but Peter and Lori. I think ironman, being newer, has it right. But marathoning, which is v new for women (1984 for olympics), made things equal when prize money for the majors became equal. Magazine coverage followed suit. Smart publishers know that women make the buying decisions and so covered more female atheletes and gave more female advice. Mags like cycle sport and procycling only do a diastema to the sport by not covering the Women's pro circuit. They do a disservice to the sport, to their readers and to the athletes. Bring it and I will buy it. And lots of others will too.

maryka October 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

It would help if the UCI would change its archaic rules about women's races: distances, length of stage races, track events, etc. At the moment, the rules restricting what women can do make cycling a bit of a face. RAAM is the same distance for everyone, why should men's cyclocross races be 60 min while women's are limited to 40 min? 500m track TT vs 1km? The list goes on. As long as the UCI continues to treat women's racing as something delicate requiring special rules, it won't be taken seriously by anyone else either.

OperaRunner October 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm

oops lots of typos in my comment.

It's equal (not IRS equal)..

…procycling only do a disservice (not diastema!!)

I agree with Maryka – the UCI has to make the competitions equal as well.

OperaRunner October 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm

and with no offense, I think commentators like inner ring, real peloton, etc prefer the men's sport only because it's what they know. I asked Matt and Ned to insert coverage of women's cycling in the cast and they responded they don't cover it bc they don't know v much about it and didn't feel they could do it justice. But honestly folks, it has to start somewhere. and isn't that the job of the press – to do research and find out stuff they don't know because there is a compelling story? or is their job to read press releases and follow the organizers around uncritically. I am taking the piss, but I am doing it to make a point.

Although perhaps I should be the change I want to see and start blogging about women's cycling…

TheInnerRing October 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Maryka, I'm in total agreement about the CX races and the track. It does matter more for the road races though, could women ride for 200km or more? Now before I get shredded, I am not saying they can't. It is just that the men stop for leak once or twice. But women can't quite do this in the same way. Is there a way to deal with this?

Operarunner: I agree on equal prizes but money is never a big deal in the sport. People want to win Paris-Roubaix for the legend, history and status. The trophy is a piece of stone mounded on wood. So yes we can boost the cash, but cycling's history runs deep. But boosting the prize funds for women would be a good way to accelerating the women's side.

Anonymous October 13, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Over here female athletes are seldom referred to by only their first name in any kind of media coverage. Only example I could think of, and even that doesn't happen to often because most of the time the use first and surname, would be the Venus sisters, since they or better their PR folks try/tried to make a brand out of their names. So this argument seemed a bit strange to me at first, but I can imagine it being differently in other countries.

Also I am a strong opposer of the restructuring of the Olympic track events because it is not a really well though decision in my opinion. Has nothing to do with women's sport/cycling but with the selection of the disciplines. No Madison, UCI have you been smoking crack?

@operarunner: I doubt raising the price money would change in popularity, it is more like the other way around, the more popular amongst spectators the more price money is in it. I fear you are mistaking the cause for the result and the other way around. Maybe raising money would attract more athletes but would it attract more spectators, I doubt that, instead more money would be needed ergo more sponsors and that would be too much of a burden for organisers and maybe cause death of races and that would have the opposite effect. But you are right about the little media exposure and respect they get, that has to chance and then the money might follow.

@maryka: In cycling I heard the mayor issue about the length of the stages/races are the pee-breaks. Surely track and cross as you named don't have this problem but see next passage.

Also, while female athletes should get the same amount of respect and price money in comparable sums and so on, speak treated equally, but I don't think they needed to be treated exactly the same. Example tennis, here the women are (finally) treated equally, they get the same price money, the same respect, the same media coverage but still only have to play two winning sets at a grand slam. And nobody complains. Women and men are physiologically different, so it is OK to treat them differently, see peeing problem for example. To get back to cycling, the race isn't necessarily better or worse, just because it is 20 min longer or 50 km. I know, right now women's cycling is not treated equally, they do not get the respect/media coverage they deserve, but treating them exactly the same won't change a thing. Letting them race different lengths or times is completely fine in my opinion and does not infantilise them.

Also remember, there are sports, although they are the minority, where it is exactly the opposite.

TheInnerRing October 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm

It's good the UCI has equalised the male and female medal count for the Olympics but sadly this has been done at the expense of some of the iconic track events. Why have both the keirin and the sprint, for example? (I know the answer…)

OperaRunner October 13, 2010 at 5:03 pm

okay, now I have heard everything – peeing is a problem in longer stage races for women? Please. develop a protocol and follow it.

And those arguments about – well, if we increase the prize money, it will price sponsors out of the market and not solve the problem – are the same as the arguments that go – oh, if we pay women the same amount to do the same job that men do, well, we'll have to hire fewer men or whatever crock argument us out there.

Obviously one can't compete with Paris Roubaix and all that history – now – but the female winner of the Boston Marathon is as important as the male winner, and that change happened over the last 40 years.

substitute "women" in any of these arguments with the word black, Jew or asian and see if the arguments are still true. they are offensive. period.

Yes change takes time. And effort. And commitment to fairness.

Cristi Ruhlman October 13, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Quite interesting thoughts in this discussion. I’d like to add my own ideas to the mix:

Do I think it should be equal money for equal work–Yes. Is it happening–no!

Do most women's sports generate the revenue for the promoter–from fans, sponsors or cross promotional draws–No! It is changing, but slowly.

While I don't agree that calling Venus, Serena, Danica or Emma (Pooley or Johanson) by their first names "infantilises" them, any more than calling Andy or Alberto or Lance by their first name "infantilises" them. It does help personalize them and make us feel "feel just that much closer" to the superstar we might never meet. Calling stars by their first names, or single names like Pele or Rinaldinho helps people feel connected to the sport, they feel they "own it", and therefore they go to the races, buy the products and support the television sponsors, who in turn make it more popular and generate revenues for the promoters.

Money makes the sporting world go round. Show that a sport can make money and see it's profile go up–on television and on the world stage. That includes female exclusive sports-like women's figure skating or women's tennis, or even a woman participant who is in a male dominated sport-like Danica Patrick in Indy Car racing.

No matter the few women’s sports that surpass their male counterparts, a gender gap in perception and credibility will remain. In dual sports, such as women's soccer or cycling, the duality of media coverage will remain until the success of marketable and enduring stars emerge from them. There are exceptions though, women’s skiing enjoys a certain cache along with the men's, as does swimming, but those are star driven sports that have either Olympic or World Cup sponsor-driven machines behind them too.

The media has a big role to play in the increase in visibility of any sport and can help make equality happen more quickly. But in promoting women’s sports or any out of the mainstream sport, male or female, we need to keep in mind what a sport needs to be popular–money, stars and a vehicle to generate and perpetuate those things–the media.

Continued pressure by fans can alter that equation in favor of lesser known sports and women dominated races. The internet is a valuable tool for media exposure for lesser known venues and marquees. So to all the bloggers, keep giving women's sports' much needed exposure, and keep in mind the long-term goals of what that sport needs to really break into the mainstream–fans, excitement, stars and the ability to generate revenue for the sponsors.

OperaRunner October 14, 2010 at 2:44 am

Cristi, you are the voice of reason! good post.

Anonymous October 14, 2010 at 2:47 am

@operarunner: it is nice and right that that at the Boston marathon the male and female winner get the same price money and the same acknowledgement. And I never said that they do not deserve the same money, but the price money is something that follows the change not the thing that causes the change. And as you yourself said change takes time, but if you try to force to level the price money in one action in hope to start the change this way I do believe this could backfire. I mean what help would if be if the ladies could earn more money in for example three races but no money in five races because they no longer exist. That could mean less money overall and even less public perception and media attention and could nip the change in the bud.
I mean I would applaud seeing the cross ladies for one example getting the same money and acknowledgement and respect for their 40 min race as the men for their 60 min race. It doesn't mean because they raced less time their efforts were lesser, their race less spectacular or their sacrifices of a lesser kind and should be paid less.

And to stick with the water letting break, I do believe it is a problem, I guess not so much for the riders themselves but in the public perception. It is already not fine to to catch the men doing it but it happens, and I cannot imagine how big the popular outrage will be if that happens with (a) female rider(s). Even if it some chauvinist or/and feminist group just searching for something to make some fuss over.

Also where is it offensive to say females are different from men? I didn't say it makes them better or worse people nor shouldn't be treated equally. But they needn't and sometimes mustn't be treated the exactly the same to be treated equally. Maybe because I'm not a native English speaker it is not clear what I want to say, so I try to illustrate it with an example. The much too often given situation is that their are shirts only made for men and if a woman wants a shirt she has to pay more or gets a product of lesser quality. Ideally she should get the same quality for the same money. Now in most cases just giving her the mens' shirt for the same money would fix this problem but sometimes there are some fittings are necessary. But this should not be to her disadvantage or cost her extra. I hope this clarifies a bit my assertion.

Neil October 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Personally I think the womens events need to mirror the mens events and be run the same weekend or day. If the womens races are generally 100km shorter for all the big 1 day classics just start them at the same time but the women 100km up the road. You only need one finish and the crowds get to see two races. Granted it'll be a lot more hassle but the roads are closed anyway.

TheInnerRing October 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Neil, they used to do this with the Women's Tour de France, the Tour Feminine. It's also done today in some events, like the Fleche Wallonne.

To operarunner and others: I'd like to see more equality and think it needs supporting. But the "call of nature" is a real issue for the sport. In triathlon and marathon it's not uncommon for athletes, male and female, to pee whilst running but is this OK for cycling? I don't see what the workaround here is.

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