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NOT-SO-ATHLETIC: BIASED MEDIA COVERAGE OF WOMEN’S SPORTS

“Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose-it teaches you about life.”
– Billie Jean King, American former World No. 1 Professional Tennis Player

INTRODUCTION:

The above-mentioned quote explicitly manifests the importance of sports in shaping up society. From perpetuating basic physical and mental development of homo-sapiens to bringing together nations at mega sporting events to compete, sports largely impact key areas of social life. With the climax of the 19th century, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed by Pierre de Coubertin and Demetrios Vikelas, the sway became global. Sports, now, was considered as an enormous public entertainment industry with potential opportunities for the generation of revenue. This transition was closely connected with the rapid growth and reach of the contemporary global media. From radio broadcasting to internet live streaming of sporting events, media has changed the outlook of sports by reinforcing and recognizing it in a way where the relationship between the two has emerged sturdy giving rise to what sports experts call Mediasport. The relationship is symbiotic as professional sports, for global recognition demands extensive and sophisticated media coverage in return for delivering lucrative audiences to media houses. International and National sports bodies like the IOC, FIFA, BCCI and AIFF now have official media corporations for taking the game they represent to every corner of the globe for entertainment and profit earning. 
While the broadcast of any sporting event is universal, the content is discriminatory majorly focusing on men’s sport. Through comparing newspaper page space and airtime devoted to men’s and women’s sport, the scanty coverage of women’s sport is a worldwide occurrence. Even after producing global stars like MC Mary Kom, Serena Williams, Alex Morgan, etc., who have proved and continue to prove their astounding athletic abilities at the world stage, women’s sports struggle with biased and nugatory media appraisal. 

UNDERPLAYING WOMEN’S SPORT

In her recent address at World Radio Day, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO, stated that merely 4% of sports media is dedicated to women’s sport. Unfortunately, this 4% majorly covers relationship status, their attires in-competition and out-of-competition and other “not-so-athletic” attributes of women athletes. Sociologists explain this bias as the by-product of how a major section of the society portrays women….vulnerable, dependable and weak even after they have rightfully invaded sports which are considered as men’s domain. On the other hand, media corporations argue that the rationale underlying is two-fold, audience preference and survival through revenue generation. The excuse of audience preference was answered by the 2015 Women’s World Cup final between USA and Japan which attracted a total viewership of 25.4 million Americans.  With a record, 764 million in-home TV global viewership and 86 million views through computers and mobile phones, the tournament are now second only to men’s World Cup in worldwide viewership. The above-mentioned data makes women’s sports lucrative and takes care of the issue of survival through “enormous” revenue generation.
But the question is not about preferences or market! It’s about the role of media and the duty and impact attached to it. The FIFA Women’s football strategy is a prime example of the role of media and the impact it carries in uplifting women’s sports…in this case football. The strategy comprises of three key objectives namely, grow participation, enhance the commercial value and build the foundation. These three objectives are aimed to be accomplished through five plan and tactics that are Develop and Grow, Showcase, Communicate and Commercialise, Govern and Lead & Educate and Empower. If one analyses the strategy, all five tactics require media support in terms of worldwide coverage so that the real benefit of the strategy reaches every part of the globe. The exclusion of any women sportsperson in the 2018 Forbes list of Highest Paid Athletes is another unfortunate example of biased media coverage and how it affects commercial value of an athlete. Lack of coverage directly breeds commercial downfall which upsets women athletes’ ability to earn on the field and through endorsements.

REBUILDING THE FOURTH PILLAR

Globally, media is considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy through which every citizen is aware of what’s happening in the country. It ensures transparency in the working of the other three pillars i.e. the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. With such a significant role to play, it is unfortunate to witness that the fourth pillar is trembling in relation to equal coverage to women’s and men’s sports negatively impacting the craze and commercial value of the former. In the Indian context, where Right to Sports is considered by the Apex court to be made as a Fundamental Right under Article 21A, redefining the duties of media houses is the need of the hour. Nations have to look towards making laws which legally binds networks in providing equal coverage to women’s sports otherwise any International or National promotion strategy will remain tall claims.         

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

 

Mr. Tarun is a researcher and educator in the field of Sports Law currently working as a Teaching and Research Associate (Law) at Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. He is also a Member of India’s first University based research Centre for Sports and Entertainment Law, GCSEL.

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