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Media coverage of women in sport

Over the past 30 years media coverage of women's participation in sport has been instrumental in increasing popularity and participation rates. Despite this female sport is hugely under-represented by the media "you can be 90% certain that media coverage of sport is based on or around male performance or male accounts of the events" (Hargreaves, 1997). Coverage of men's sport covers a wider range of sports at a multitude of levels compared to the elite coverage of women's sport in a limited number of events. Media coverage of women's sport has tended to focus on female athletes' non-playing attributes such as their femininity and sexuality rather than their on field performances. An example of this would be Anna Kournikova who in 2002 was the highest paid female tennis player in the world and darling of the media due to her perceived attractiveness and femininity rather than her tennis ability. Anna Kournikova has never won a major singles title. However, could the same be said of David Beckham's earning power?

One of the most notable examples of media focussing on female achievement was the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Some of the major media friendly moments of the games involved female achievement in sport. For example:

  • Cathy Freeman winning the 400m in front of an ecstatic home crowd
  • Marion Jones quest to win an unprecedented 5 Olympic gold medals
  • Naoko Takahashi winning the marathon with an 84% share of the TV audience in Japan
  • Denise Lewis winning the gold medal in the heptathlon
  • The Williams sisters winning gold in the tennis doubles in only 49 minutes.

Aside from the media portrayal of female performances in the Games some of the main human interest stories surrounding the Games involved women:

  • Reigning Olympic 400m champion Marie-Jose Perec leaving Sydney without explanation prior to competing
  • Mr Marion Jones being excluded from the Games for failing a drugs test
  • Nigerian Glory Alozie just losing out for the gold medal days after her husband was run over and killed in a Sydney street.
  • Cathy Freeman lighting the Olympic flame.

Despite the performances of female athletes' in the Games of 2000 it was still felt that female popularity in the media was due to their femininity and attractiveness to the male audience. This was highlighted by Jill Greer, former runner and head of communications for the US track and field team;

"....women's sport is a glamour thing. You're out there wearing your underwear, basically, in front of 100,000 people, and you're putting on your make-up and doing your hair".