England captain Charlotte Edwards poses with the Women's Ashes trophy in Australia in February. Photo: Getty
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Why is the media still erasing women’s achievement in sport?

Within sport, women athletes are finally gaining the professional recognition they deserve. Yet the media continues to assume that “the England team” is shorthand for “the men’s team”.  

Last night in the lavish Long Room at Lord’s in north-west London, the England cricketer of the year awards were announced.

Ian Bell has been widely reported as being this year’s “player of the year”, thanks to his valiant contributions with the bat against Australia, and this has been covered extensively in the media (including a lengthy interview in the Guardian with Vic Marks, tweets from the BBC’s highly respected Test Match Special last night, and a discussion on Radio 4 this morning).

Yet this wasn’t the award the England and Wales Cricket Board gave to Bell. 

They’re very clear – he’s “men’s player of the year”. Multi-Ashes-winning captain Charlotte Edwards was named “women’s player of the year” – yet she’s either ignored or relegated to a single sentence, as if her achievements are not even worth covering.

In fact, the ECB have been excellent at promoting and investing in women’s cricket. Earlier this summer, they announced they were awarding central contracts to their top players, enabling them to fundamentally be professional athletes instead of having to juggle a day job in order to subsidise their sport. And they’re also working to encourage girls and women at grassroots – their very successful Chance to Shine programme works with young people, and their new Club Open Days initiative is actively aiming to get more women involved as well.

The same curious media erasure of women’s prizes happened with the PFA player of the year awards – they make it extremely plain indeed that they’re giving prizes to their men’s player of the year and their women’s player of the year, but the media just reported on the chap – the ever-controversial Luis Suarez, ignoring the title-winning Lucy Bronze.

And that comes after the FA – not known for their gender innovations or historical promotion of women’s football, having only taken real control of it in the past 20 years – have rolled out a second division to their successful Women’s Super League. Meanwhile, England’s route to the World Cup – to be held in Canada next year – has been crushing so far: six games played, 33 goals scored, none conceded.

This phenomenon interests me particularly at the moment. It’s the timing that’s most interesting: it comes just after the entire Scudamore farrago in the Premier League, and Ernests Gulbis’s recent comments about women in tennis. It’s easy to wring hands about sport perpetuating gender stereotypes and offering outlets for lazy, unthinking sexism. And it’s easy to complain about governing bodies not promoting women’s sport, and blaming them for its low profile.

But that’s a very simplistic analysis of the problem – and it’s not accurate. Leaving aside nastily-worded emails sent by executives or the ridiculous hyperbole uttered in press conferences, there are equally significant dangers presented by more covert, insidious sexism – sexism that gets dismissed as “just the way things are”. 

For example, there’s a question-mark around how many women are going to Brazil to cover any aspect of the World Cup for a British newspaper (just two – Hadley Freeman of the Guardian and Donna Bowater of the Telegraph, according to Women in Journalism, although the Guardian’s Amy Lawrence is funding her own trip). This increased homogeneity of sports coverage is a real concern for anyone interested in a diverse media – and yet recently leading journalists have dismissed the idea that there’s any problem with white middle-class men’s domination of sports writing. 

And one of the potential problems of this male juggernaut is an utter lack of self-awareness. Without a broad range of people involved in the writing, editing and publication (or broadcast) process, the same tired sexism continues to be churned out.

Just look at the nasty undertone to some of the coverage of Maria Sharapova’s French Open win (with one broadsheet writer – who is usually excellent on women’s sport – referring to her modelling persona as playing the “bimbo”). 

And yes, as Charlotte Edwards has no doubt been long aware, there continues to be a quiet erasing of the achievements of elite female athletes, treating the men’s games as “normal” and women’s sport as add-ons: the Radio 4 debate said that England had a bad year of cricket – despite Edwards’ squad’s multiple series wins – because the shorthand is that “England” simply means “the men’s team”.

Perhaps the media should stop haranguing those within sport just for the time being – and better use their time by looking significantly closer to home when it comes to ingrained, endemic sexism.

Carrie Dunn is a writer and academic. Her book “Female Football Fans: Community, Identity and Sexism” is published by Palgrave

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.