- By Vibha Naiknavare
I was 15 when I first saw a live match between Martina Hingis and Venus Willams fighting for the Title Champions Tennis league during 2014 which was the first International league held in Hyderabad, India. Thinking about the tournament still gives me goosebumps but one thing that always bothered me was the empty stadium, as opposed to the men’s matches that held full capacity. I always thought that the reason for this was a lack of interest in women’s tennis, but it turned out to be the same occurrence in other women’s sports.
When people think of sports, very few people think of successful female teams and athletes. Try naming your top 5 favourite female athletes or teams and you’ll probably see what I mean.
Now think about it, I am sure the list of favourite teams or athletes is dominated by men. It is only within the last decade that female players have been recognised in male dominated sports such as Football, Rugby, Formula One, and Cricket which allowed them to pursue sports full time.
Women in sports have come a long way from facing challenges throughout history to achieving gender equality at a certain stretch.
Just take a look at the 2020 US open women’s singles draw with nine mothers out of which Serena Willams, Victoria Azarenka, and Tsvetana Pironkova made history by becoming the first trio of mothers to enter quarter-finals, also known as a charge led by super mums. Yet, stereotypes and lack of representation is the most extensive barrier to gender equality all over the world.
The battle of sexes first started in 1973 Billie Jean King, who founded the Women’s Tennis Association and started a movement for female players to earn equal prize money in tournaments irrespective of gender. It took 28 years until another Grand Slam consistently awarded equal prize money.
“Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs,” King once said. “I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”
Many would suggest that gender equality is all about equal pay. And although it is a major issue that cannot be ignored, there is more to it than meets the eye. The issue is embedded by the insufficiency of visibility in media and promotion. According to the reports, women make up 40% of all participants in sports but only receive 4% of sports media coverage. Whenever I switch on the television, 90% of sports broadcasted are men’s sports.
This indirectly leads to a shortage of motivation for future female enthusiasts to participate in sports and increases the drop out of female athletes. Even when you reflect back, if you are a die-hard Liverpool fan or a City fan, no one actually talks about their Women’s team. Interestingly, most of the team’s social media posting addressing their women athletes is one in twenty.
Ever wondered, why?
Well, sexism in sport starts with how women sports are marketed by their own leagues. Despite governments' efforts to equalise and invest in women sports, we are yet to see more results and changes moving forward. And marketing and media visibility play an essential role for this to happen.
There is a correlation between the popularity of a sport and the salaries of its athletes. The game’s popularity comes from how much time, coverage, and money is invested in it. To this date, female sports experience less media coverage and poor quality of technical production as opposed to men. This also shows the level of play and quality of the game as one of the main reasons behind the lack of support for women sports.
It is a vicious cycle in which the lack of promotion in women’s sport can easily be conceived as the root of the problem justifying why sports fans are not as interested in women’s sports as they are in men’s sports.
Nevertheless, a stronger female presence within sport is to be expected. We have witnessed certain improvements in media coverage and women sports development campaigns in recent years which is slowly eradicating the gap of inequality and is increasing female representation moving forward.
To quote Nelson Mandela, “Sports holds the power to change the world, inspire, and unite people together”. Sports can create a yearning and an opportunity for gender equality. What really matters is us, men and women working together towards positive changes.
Sports has such a positive impact and is open for all, so why not lead women in sport to the top and celebrate them together by inspiring future generations of athletes and coaches towards a better future?