Women vs. media

102 years after the first publicised women’s soccer match in Australia, are we still stuck in the past?

One of the first Australian women’s football clubs, 1921. Photo: State Library of Queensland.

Following the Matilda’s success, the Australian government has promised $200 million to go towards sporting facilities for women and increasing accessibility to women’s sports on TV. The question remains: will this be good enough?

Over 100 years after the first publicised women’s soccer match in Australia, hope for improving women’s sports coverage prevails, according to Women Sport Australia president Gen Dohrmann. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final drew 11.15 million viewers, making it the most-watched broadcast in Australia.

University of the Sunshine Coast journalism lecturer Peter English was cautiously optimistic about the momentum the Matilda’s have brought to women’s sports in Australia.

Dr English said the World Cup had created a “huge, very well deserved and necessary shift” in women’s sports coverage. However, he stressed the importance of remaining realistic.

“This is a global tournament involving the most popular sport in the world, so I’m not sure if rugby league could ever get to this level or the [AFL], even cricket.” 

Ms Dohrmann said the World Cup was the push the media needed to start broadcasting more women’s sports.

“Hosting the World Cup has been a huge factor in seeing that women’s sports can fill stadiums and get record broadcast numbers, as well as mainstream media coverage, if it’s given the opportunity.”

Historically, the coverage of women’s sports has been significantly disproportionate and misogynistic according to a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation report. The report, published in January, showed women make up 40 per cent of all sports participants, however, only four per cent of all sports media. It noted much of the coverage they receive is objectifying and/or demeaning.

Many think sportswomen should reveal their personal lives to inspire young girls.

Women In Sport chief executive Stephanie Hilborne believes this puts sportswomen at significant risk of receiving unwarranted criticism and suggests coverage of high-profile sportswomen should be focussing on their sporting achievements. 

Dr English explained that part of the problem lies in male-dominated sports newsrooms, with only around 10 per cent of sports journalists being female.

Ms Hilborne said: “There is so much misogyny in those spaces and [female journalists] haven’t thrived. We need 50-50 women behind the camera and 50-50 editorial decisions being made by women.”

Ms Dohrmann suggested the media should follow the ABC model of broadcasting equal coverage of men’s and women’s sports.

According to Dr English, some newsrooms argue against more women’s sports coverage as they assume they are targeting male viewers who mainly want to see men’s sports.

Ms Hilborne feels the media needs to find a balance between following the market and leading the market.

She stated business models with broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals for men are causing an ‘outdated market trap’.

“It’s simply wrong to deny women an equal profile for their sporting achievements.”

In 2022 in the UK, Women In Sport found young girls’ dreams of being a top sports player rose by 20 per cent after seeing increased media representation. Ms Hilborne thought Australia would have similar results.

“To crush someone’s ability to dream is blatantly wrong.”

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