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Women's sport goes high vis – keep it for the right reasons

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Two Brunel academics pick apart the progress as summer TV schedules show women’s sport is moving more mainstream.

The start of the women’s Euros on Channel 4 has had many on the edge of the sofa. But we still don’t easily link British football fandom with women’s games, says Dr Laura Hills on HuffPost

Ten years ago Dr Hills and University College London colleague, Dr Eileen Kennedy raked through men’s and women’s international football coverage. The difference between a 2007 Women’s World Cup match and the men’s Euro Qualifiers around the same time was stark. The men’s game was slick and dramatic. The women’s was less polished, with uneasy presenters and a bizarre opening sequence filled with flowers and butterflies.

Ten years later, Ian Wright, Clare Balding, Michael Owen and top players Eni Aluko and World Cup winner Heather Reilly pundit the women’s game.

Women’s football coverage has transformed in the past decade, Drs Hills and Kennedy argue. But the higher visibility took years of petitioning. The pointed references to gender are getting replaced with a focus on football and footballers.

Writing for The Conversation, Brunel’s Dr Louise Mansfield and co-writers say while it is getting more exposure, women’s sports coverage has actually become more sexist. The elite sportswomen who get most attention are the ones who attract white, male heterosexual viewers and TV producers, she argues.

In surfing, for instance, the World Surf League helped raise coverage of women’s events with increased prize money. But the female surfer image is still sexualised and objectified, they show. The industry is sexist and sponsors choose model looks over talent with more pressure to ‘show some arse’ than ‘kick some arse’.

Good news then that governments and international organisations are starting to tackle the inequalities. Fixing gender equality in sport, The International Olympic Committee says, is about seeing more women both on the field and in leadership roles.

Feminism has helped open sport up for women, Dr Mansfield says in her upcoming book. This is how we can challenge everyday sexism in elite sport and level the playing field.

Find out more about sport science at Brunel

Image courtesy of UEFA

Reported by:

Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268176
hayley.jarvis@brunel.ac.uk