Authored by the team ‘SAVS’: Sonia Ambrose, Vicky-Lea Mills, Abbi Mcdonald, and Scott Forsyth [E119 22J students].
This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor, and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from 27 blogs that were produced in January 2023.
Within the sporting world, there is the running narrative that if an athlete works hard and achieves amazing feats then they will be immortalised within the pantheon of sporting icons, yet how many of these athletes are female?
Often, within the country’s favourite sports, men take the limelight while women, though equally talented and successful, are within their shadows. A study by USC/Purdue University found that 95% of all TV sports coverage within the US was of men’s sport while only 5% represented women’s (Miller, 2021). UK research by YouGov (2021), found that 78% of respondents watch more men’s sports, and the same study showed that 31% of respondents said they don’t engage with women’s sport as they struggle to find coverage. This could stem from a lack of media coverage generally, and limited marketing making it difficult to spread awareness of women’s sport.
Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash
Nowadays we need to look beyond traditional media such as television, newspapers etc., and look at online coverage and social media. In a recent survey conducted by the BBC (2020), 85% of those who completed the survey didn’t think that the media does enough to promote female sports. Higher tariff sports gain the most coverage, as do the sports personalities in those arenas. For instance, if we consider footballers on Instagram, we can see that the most followed women’s footballer is Alex Morgan, with 9.8 million followers, compared to the most followed men’s footballer, Cristian Ronaldo, who boasts 534 million. But why such a huge difference? Both players train hard, fight for their sport, and have sponsors, but with reduced amounts of online followers, there is a high risk of reduced financial support. Both a lack of financial support and social media influence affect female athletes’ notoriety and how they are celebrated within sports.
However, if we look at other sports such as tennis the online presence for females appears to be more on par with males. Looking at top British players and their Instagram followers, we see that Emma Raducanu has 2.5 million, while Sir Andy Murray has 1.8 million. It’s impressive that Emma has such a large following when still relatively new to the sport, and considering the vast achievements of Sir Andy over a decade and a half.
There is a stark contrast in media portrayal of female athletes versus their male counterparts. Women are objectified, with more emphasis placed on how the female body looks, not achievements or abilities, ultimately degrading the athlete. While working with the local Government, Edinburgh University found that 22% of female sports media coverage from the UK’s 5 main news outlets could be viewed as sexual content (Davidson, 2019).
Photo by Miguel Teirlinck on Unsplash
A recent example of the over-sexualisation of women in sport is highlighted by the Norwegian beach handball team’s uniform discrepancy between male and female players within competitions. The Norwegian women’s team were fined due to wearing shorts instead of bikini bottoms during a 2021 match, but made a breakthrough in the sport, changing the rules on uniforms through their stand (Radnofsky, 2021).
This obsession with the female body within and surrounding sport creates an uncomfortable and damaging idea of what the female body should look like and helps lead to athletes, and females in general, having unhealthy relationships with their bodies. BBC Sport (2020) found that 78% of Elite sportswomen surveyed were conscious of their body image.
On the flip side, gymnastics is a sport where women do get a lot of promotion and media coverage, but it is also deemed a predominantly female sport. Veronique Sprenger, a former first-division gymnast, explained that whilst the media coverage is female-dominated and females normally earn more than males, the stream of income is limited. She also expressed that gymnastics is sexualised, and most athletes find the uniforms to make them feel uncomfortable (Ibrahim and Spregner, 2022). Although gymnastic outfits need to be streamlined and complement the sport, the athletes can feel exposed and exploited.
Consistent media sexualization of female athletes is likely a factor in less media coverage of the most notable protagonists i.e., many performers may choose not to be splashed across the media and attain celebrity status, just for doing what they may class as their job! The pressure on females to comply or fit in with magazine life and image is very damaging, especially when professional athletes have much more to focus on.
It could be suggested that the main reason that women athletes don’t receive the same levels of fame as male athletes is the lack of media coverage they receive. Although it appears that sponsorships of women’s sports and athletes are on the rise in very recent times, it is logical to surmise that companies will not be prepared to invest in women’s sport the same way that they do men’s if it is not covered in the media more. Although from another standpoint you could argue that the media are not going to cover women’s sport more unless they have a greater investment through sponsorship to begin with. However, it is not all doom and gloom! Women’s sponsorships have increased by 20% over 2022 with the biggest sponsor being Nike (Sponsor United, 2022). In September 2022 history was made when 47,367 spectators attended the Women’s FA match Arsenal vs Tottenham in the Emirates Stadium (Statista, 2022). And who can forget the moment the Lionesses tore their way into British history, which was plastered on every screen, radio, and billboard? These moments and levels of celebration are what we must recreate and normalise for women to ever be truly celebrated in sport and inspire the next generation of female athletes.
BBC Sport. (2020) BBC elite British sportswomen’s survey results. BBC Sport. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/sport/53593459
Davison, G. (2019) Women’s sport under-reported and over-sexualised says new research. The Scotsman. Available at: https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/womens-sports-under-reported-and-over-sexualised-says-new-research-1406411
Ibrahim, M. Sprenger, V. (2022) From football to gymnastics: gender inequality is everywhere. Sportanddev.org. Available at: https://www.sportanddev.org/en/article/news/football-gymnastics-gender-inequality-everywhere
Miller, J. (2021) News media still pressing the nut button on women’s sport. USC News. Available at:
Radnofsky, C. (2021) Norways beach handball team wins fight over sexist uniform rules. NBC News. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/norways-beach-handball-team-win-fight-sexist-uniform-rules-rcna4218
Sponsor United. (2022) Women in sports 2022. Sponsor United. Available at: https://sponsorunited.com/women-sports-2022-report/
Statista Research Department. (2022) All-time highest attendances in the English FA WSL 2022. Statista. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1323174/england-womens-super-league-record-attendances/
YouGov. (2021) Women in sport report 2021. YouGov. Available at: