Does the media give women's sport proper coverage?

Yes, says Michael Moynihan

The level of coverage is appropriate to level of interest

‘LIP service’ is a dismissive term, of course, and one which brings lamentable sexist innuendo to mind. We’re not going to bite on that one.

On the basis that everyone milks their own cows, we can only speak for this corner of the media world, and here the key word is appropriate: as in, coverage which is appropriate to the level of interest.

It’s not uncommon to hear fans of, and participants in, women’s sport lament the lack of coverage and analysis their sports get. What isn’t so common is to hear them acknowledge that the exposure afforded their sports reflects — accurately — the level of interest the public at large has in their sport.

The general level of interest shouldn’t be mistaken for the proverbial love people have for their pet subjects.

That kind of obsession isn’t a reliable guide to the level of interest among the disinterested masses: you’ll find no more passionate advocate for their sport than those who love the most obscure, minority-interest sport, but there’s a reason for describing those sports with terms like ‘obscure’ or ‘minority interest’.

The stories may be fascinating, the personalities larger than life, but the majority of people, rightly or wrongly, just aren’t interested.

Women’s sport isn’t a minority interest per se; it suffers from a subtly different problem. The best-known women’s sportspeople are successful in the female form of sports which are also played by men, so the problem is one of immediate comparison, and women’s sport suffers as a consequence.

Call it the Premier League versus the League of Ireland conundrum. You know that the League of Ireland has its own riveting stories, its own classic matches, its own talented individuals, but overall it’s not at the same level as the Premier League, no matter how you look at it.

The action occurs at a faster pace, with harder collisions and higher skill levels. There’s more at stake. Understandably, then, more people are interested in the Premiership than the League of Ireland.

And more people are interested in men’s sport than women’s sport.

There’s a ready-made comparison coming up this weekend. Cork and Monaghan face off in the All-Ireland Ladies Football final tomorrow, with Cork occupying the mantle worn by Kerry in the men’s game last week — a hugelysuccessful team with plenty of titles — and Monaghan taking the Dublin role from last Sunday: feisty newcomers, though backed by a long tradition.

There’ll be a lot of interest in the game, but will you have a problem getting a ticket for Croke Park in comparison to the men’s game last weekend? We don’t think so.

Take it one stage further. With Stephen Cluxton lining up the kick that made him immortal, with the game almost over and theresult in the balance, 1.4 million people were watching on television.

Granted, you could say it was an exceptional game and an unbelievable finish, but a figure like that shows a level of interest among the general public that women’s sport just doesn’t achieve. The fact that most of those people weren’t diehard GAA fans but rather casual observers copperfastens the point: it’s the floating punters who swell the numbers.

TG4 can expect healthy viewing figures for tomorrow’s game, but they won’t be at that level: two years ago they got 335,000 viewers. That’s appropriate to the level of interest. Just like the coverage.

No, says Joan O’Flynn

Women’s games stand on their own merits and deserve fair play

WHEN I sat down to write this piece, the Irish women’s international soccer team were about to take on France in their first home game of the UEFA 2013 championship.

Ireland are ranked 27th in the world and France had reached this year’s World Cup semi-finals. In sporting terms, it was a fixture of significant importance pitting a super heavyweight against an emerging side. I was keen to read or listen to the interview with some of the Irish players and manager Sue Ronan.

It was not to be. You might say so what? The story did not warrant an extensive piece.

However, if a team is taking on the World Cup semi-finalists on home soil, as part of qualification for a major tournament, then it is a story worthy of column inches and airtime. I couldn’t help saying to myself ‘if this was the men’s team things would be different…’

Internationally, media coverage of sport remains 10% of the total. In Ireland how are we doing? Not as good as we could be.

Recent Irish analysis showed that of 6,503 photos of sports people in six national newspapers, only 78 (1.2%) were photos of sports women. The same analysis showed that in the five years of the research the prevalence of women sports photos reached a peak of 3%.

Happily, I can say that the coverage of my own sport, camogie, is improving all the time. Media partnerships with the TV stations and a national newspaper are mutually beneficial. They contribute enormously to the national promotion of camogie, enhance our reputation and provide the media with the opportunity to serve a diversity of sports audiences.

In tandem, camogie is also growing on two fronts — more people playing the game, up to 100,000 members all over the country, and more people following the game. The 2011 camogie All-Ireland champions Wexford have a huge public following, in their home county. Udoubtedly, the interest is fuelled by success. But it’s more than that. The public recognises the players’ flair, talent and ability.

I acknowledge the many points raised in the media when approached on the issue of airtime or column inches. But I disagree.

Yes, the attendance levels and the commercial interest, in some cases, are not on a par with our male counterparts but surely that’s cause and effect? More coverage creates more interest. Imagine what the Rugby World Cup would be at the moment if it only got 10% of the coverage!. You would hardly know about it.

Wexford Camogie illustrates my point. Its supporters are not all women. They are drawn from every strand of the community. Media creates an audience for sport.

Women’s sport is continuously compared to sport played by men. There’s no need. Wexford camogie and indeed many other sporting achievements by women are intrinsic sporting achievements. They stand on their own merits. Of course, it is fantastic to get extensive coverage in September when the All-Ireland finals come round. This helps to drive the promotion and development of women’s sport. But the challenge is to secure that consistently.

Women’s sport, specifically in Ireland, needs to reach a point, where coverage is not a novelty but is generated organically.

To be content with the status quo is not enough. In true sporting style one should strive for more. Today, the law recognises that women should be treated fairly and equally. Social attitudes reflect this too.

It’s time for the sports media to catch up.

*Joan O’Flynn is the president of the Camogie Association

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