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Women hit the headlines in sport – why aren’t there more writing about it?

Women hit the headlines in sport – why aren’t there more writing about it? 150 150 CWESN

Suzanne Franks – www.theguardian.com

Two weeks of Olympic coverage are a rare time when sustained coverage of female sports stars hits the headlines. The airwaves are full of women running, jumping, cycling and riding.

Yet outside the period of major sporting festivals, evidence from the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation suggests that only 5% of total sports coverage relates to activities by women.

Women’s sport attracts a tiny proportion of the total sponsorship and, as is well known, the salaries and facilities are minuscule by comparison to men’s.

Yet it is not just women playing sport which is ignored, but women reporting and writing about it. In 2012 and 2013, my colleague Deidre O’Neill and I looked at bylines across UK newspapers and found that at no point in any of the periods we examined was the proportion of female bylines higher than 3%.

There were occasions where the female contribution on one newspaper for one week reached just over 4% (at the Guardian and the Daily Mail), but the averages were well below this.

Over all the periods we studied the average proportion of stories written by women was a mere 1.8%.

We have followed that survey up with interviews with the handful of female sports journalists in the UK’s national press and found that things appear to be changing at a glacial pace, if at all.

As the Sun’s Vikki Orvice said at a recent London Press Club event on getting into sports journalism:

“I thought when I started out in tabloids in 1995, there would be a trajectory of women starting to emerge in sports writing, but it has not been the case at all. In fact, it has got worse … Women in sports writing peaked in 2000 … The only females at the Sun are me and two secretaries.”

In recent years there has been some considerable progress regarding the visibility of women in broadcast sports journalism. The London Olympics and the starring role of presenters such as Clare Balding and Gabby Logan was a watershed for UK broadcasting, but there are still relatively few female sports writers in the newspaper industry, and sports journalism worldwide remains largely male-dominated.

Several of the reporters we spoke to raised the link between participation in sport and reporting it. Laura Williamson, who writes for the Daily Mail pointed out that a traditional route into reporting on sport is by playing it at top level:

“Fewer women have grown up with or played sport to the level where they might be encouraged to report on it.”

And, along with a number of other interviewees, she pointed out that the popularity of football can limit reporting opportunities for women:

“Men’s football is the dominant sport – and it is played, managed and run by men. This makes it more difficult for a young women to build contacts and network, simply because she belongs to a different demographic [there has never been a female chief football correspondent]. And the readership of sports media is overwhelmingly male, so they are more likely to regard sports reporting as a dream job.”

Martha Kelner, who writes for the Mail and was young sports writer of the year in 2012, agreed: “It’s more natural for men. [Lots of boys] want to be a footballer, and if they don’t make it, they may want to stay close to the sport by writing about it. Because fewer girls play football, this possibility is unlikely to even be on their radar.”

In addition, in the UK we have only seen women’s football taken more seriously and given better media coverage in the past couple of years. However, the popularity of women playing football has markedly increased at the same time. With the growing professionalisation of the women’s game, it is possible we may in future see more women who have played coming through as football sports journalists.

Alison Kervin’s appointment in 2013 at the Mail on Sunday as the first (and only) female sports editor of a UK national newspaper was a milestone. Around half of national newspaper sports desks have no women.

Kervin agrees with other female sports writers that there are still challenges which prevent more women breaking through, although she thinks things have improved since she first started and would file her reports from rugby matches as A Kervin, because she knew that using her first name would put editors off.

Yet she may have been unduly optimistic. Last year one of my students, a long-time rugby enthusiast called Andrea, applied for a paid internship reporting on the Rugby World Cup. In her application she called herself Andy and when she was appointed and then showed up, the editor of the site was visibly shocked to find she was not a man.

After her internship was over he told her that he had been pleasantly surprised at how good she had been – with the obvious implication that this was in spite of her gender.

Several women sports writers, such as Janine Self or Amy Lawrence, highlighted annoying attitudes which still persist. Other reporters emphasised the problem of declining local and regional papers, offering fewer entry roles for sports reporting, as well as the highly unsociable hours worked by sports reporting as off putting towomen.

Particularly worrying is the way that female sports journalists are treated on social media. As elsewhere they face sustained abuse not because of what they write, but because of who they are.

Frequent comments include “Get back in the kitchen” or much worse. Martha Kelner worries that things have deteriorated on Twitter:

“I have been called a slag and told I don’t know what I’m doing because I’m a woman. It’s more common when I write about (male dominated) football than a sport like athletics … There are people in darkened rooms spoiling for a fight. We may not get more online abuse than men, but it can be more vitriolic and insulting and our gender is often the first port of call for someone sending an abusive tweet.”

This atmosphere could be a further deterrent to aspiring female sportswriters. Yet despite such hurdles, at City University’s department of journalism we teach modules on sports reporting and an encouraging number of women take this class.

Many of them show boundless enthusiasm for sports writing of all kinds – from boxing to badminton. We are hoping to see their bylines on the back pages (and equivalent) before too long.

Digital Crayon – Passion and Persistence

Digital Crayon – Passion and Persistence 150 150 CWESN

I have lost track of how many people have asked me what CWESN is about in the past two weeks.

And every time I am posed with the question, I actually find myself at a lost for words. It is hard to describe an emotion, harder to describe passion and even harder to tell a total stranger your dreams.

In simple words, CWESN – Caribbean Women Entertainment Sport Network – is an online media company that covers women’s sports. Although, I have now made the transition from being entirely online, to having a physical presence with the printing of this first issue of CWESN the Magazine.

CWESN.com peaked at the 104th most visited site in Trinidad and Tobago and 247,000 on the world in just six months after its launch. The site is now nearing one million visits. CWESN The Magazine has gathered over 100,000 views – 13,000 in only the first day and over 73,000 in less than two weeks.

That is it in a nutshell!

To the average onlooker, that is what they will see. To me, it is a lot more than that. CWESN is a concept; it is the idea that I can change the way women’s sport is perceived in the world.

How I go about doing that will be no simple task, 18 months of doing this has been no easy task, but I just deal with the challenges as they arise.

Recently the challenges were met with celebration when I was given the National Youth Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Winning the award was special, being nominated for it though, meant a lot more to me. It meant more because I was nominated by someone I look up to a great deal.

West Indies Women coach, Stephanie Power, nominated me for the award … two days after the deadline. Thankfully we live in Trinidad. Thankfully neither of us decided to give up just because the deadline had already passed. An interesting lesson that was – had we just forgotten it just because the deadline had passed, I would not have gotten the award.

Stephanie is one of my role models. One of the kindest people you will ever meet and full of life. She is the West Indies women coach, but unfortunately not involved in T&T cricket. She is by far one the most qualified women’s cricket coach in T&T and the Caribbean. A former WI player and captain, her success as a coach rests greatly on her ability to motivate players.

She was one of the first people I interviewed when I started CWESN and remains one of my biggest supporters. 

I would like to publicly thank Stephanie for her support. I would also like to thank everyone who has been with CWESN since its inception. Fans who tune in religiously to cricket updates, people who support behind the scene; those who give motivation when things are going horribly wrong.

For CWESN to be successful, it requires more than just the simple coverage of women’s sports. It requires the support and change in mindset from every society around the world.

Mind Games

Mind Games 1280 800 CWESN

By Kamasha Robertson

Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan was once asked during an interview which one of the skills he was more proud of: his athletic skills or the mental skills and which one was more difficult to keep up? How do you think he would have responded to such a question? There is no doubt that becoming a professional athlete takes tremendous physical work, endless hours of gym work, specialty training, diet and recovery work…Yes even recovering takes work!

Very seldom, however, does one think about the ‘Mental’ side of sports and the major part that it plays in the holistic development of an athlete. Many a time as it turns out, I have found that not even the athlete is aware that certain aspects of their training that they engage in are actually psychological techniques and strategies. Who can blame them though? The field of Sport Psychology is a relatively new one that was first introduced as a University Course in 1923 at the University of Illinois by American Professor Coleman Griffith.

Since then Sport Psychology has slowly trickled its way down to the Caribbean, and to a greater extent, Trinidad and Tobago. Sport Psychology is an interdisciplinary science that combines knowledge from the fields of Kinesiology and Psychology and analyses the effects of psychological factors on performance and how participation in sport and exercise affect psychological and physical factors.

Today applied sport psychology is widely accepted by many professional athletes worldwide who have seen and benefited from the positive effects that building psychological strength has on the athlete. So why is it that locally, there is still a stereotype that when one uses the services of a ‘Sport Psychology Professional’, they are seemingly “crazy”? As a Sport Psychology professional and athlete myself, this question has definitely awakened within me, a yearning to edify and inculcate the aspects of a profession that are so very relevant to the modern day athlete.

Though nothing but a fledgling taking flight in comparison to many others in this profession, I embrace this as it brings forth the possibility of gaining new knowledge with every task even as I teach others. Sport Psychology, is indeed the unsharpened tool in the shed full of sporting professions such as Managers, Coaches, Physiotherapists, and the like that are better understood and in constant demand in Trinidad and Tobago. This nonetheless, makes it any less significant.

Why not chat with the athlete who experiences severe anxiety before competitions, or unable to cope under pressure or the athlete who was denied a spot on his Varsity Basketball team, but later grew up and rebounded to silence critics and become ‘basketball royalty’? Yes Michael Jordan was not always the strong and confident MVP he became; he attributed learning mental skills and how to apply them to his game as one of the major components of his success, which brings us back to his reply to that reporter:

“The mental part is the hard part because you have to take everything you’ve learned and tie that back into the physical part of the game, physically it is a little bit easier, but the mental part is the hardest part and I think that is the part that separates the good players from the great players.”

Perhaps its quotes like these that will help inspire the upcoming talent in not just basketball, but rather, the multitude of athletes worldwide in diverse sporting disciplines who thirst for success. Hopefully it will also urge them to tap into that “Intangible Resource” known as the mind and explore beyond the limits and boundaries of the ordinary athlete, to eventually become something much greater than they could ever have imagined.

Kamasha Robertson B.Sc., M.Sc. is a Sports and Exercise Psychology Consultant (Kamasha Robertson & Associates). At present she is a Sport Psychology Officer at the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) she is also a long time High Performance Badminton Player and Pan American Certified Umpire in her sport.