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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Me Tarzan, You Jane

Does sexism still prevail in the world of sport?

The inspiration for this topic comes from an article in this week's Sunday Independent (no, I personally didn't buy it). Written by Eamonn Sweeney, it argues that Padraig Harrington is Ireland's greatest ever sportsman. A valid argument, perhaps, and most certainly a topical one. It's even one I proposed last Monday morning in work. Yet, I was struck by one line in the article.

Ronnie Delany's Olympic gold medal over 1,500m in 1956 marks him down as one of our very greatest as does John Tracey's silver medal in the 1984 marathon in a time which would have won any Olympics before or since. Eamonn Coghlan and Sonia O' Sullivan were world champions in their day and world class for many years....

Three of the athletes in this sentence have won Olympic Medals - only two of them are mentioned. Why did Mr. Sweeney omit O' Sullivan's silver medal in the 5000m in Sydney? He goes on

Harrington's current number three position (in the World Golf Rankings) is...uniquely impressive in Irish sport.

Yet this is not unique. In 1995, O' Sullivan was named Women's Track and Field Athlete of the Year and as recently as May of this year, Jessica Kuerten was also ranked Number 2 in the world in show jumping. (She may have been higher at one point but I can't prove this, yet I think she was. She is Number 7 for the month of July.)

Now, I'm not accusing Mister Sweeney of sexism here. I read his articles every week. Opinion pieces on sport are designed to provoke discussion and that is all that I am doing here, albeit not on the topic he proposed. However, I do wonder whether there is sexism in the coverage of sports and if this is justified?

Studies show that men's sport gets the lion's share of coverage. This is a broad statement but is generally true for almost all sports and almost all countries. A quick trip to an academic library will show bias both in the amount of coverage, and in the way women athletes are personified. Galleries such as this one are often devoted to women athletes, but rarely to men (not that I'd be looking!). This is an issue which has been discussed in other blogs by people far more qualified than I.

Yet, I regard this as fair. I recently discussed this with a friend of mine where I (successfully... I think) argued that men are superior to women. I don't mean better, but I mean of higher rank or importance. It's a controversial argument, and I'm not saying that men are better than the fairer sex. However, I do argue that due to historic and social reasons, men are the prevailing sex in society.

The same is true in sport. Women's sport has always been second best. It was 1984 before women were deemed capable of running an Olympic marathon. While men's finals in football, rugby, GAA and basketball were given prominent TV coverage in markets across the world for years, only recently have women's finals come close to this. Even then, viewing figures and attendances are rarely comparable.

This does not mean that the accomplishments of female athletes should be devalued. O' Sullivans medal should be mentioned and journalists in particular should ensure that they are not discriminatory. My mum was angered by this article. She emailed Eamonn Sweeney who kindly replied admitting his mistake. A small victory for feminism!

So what do you think? I'm quite happy with the status quo, because I think it reflects what audiences want. Journalism should not be sexist, but the coverage of sports should reflect the wants of it's audience. However, I am a man, and would love to know if any of the gals out there disagree and think they're under-represented. Leave me a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I would be in favour of more womens volleyball being shown on tv.