While all business sectors do their best to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis in one piece, sport has opted for a curiously male-oriented strategy of survival
Sport, like many other industries, has been a place of gender inequality. There are inequalities in salaries and opportunities, whether as athletes, managers or coaches. Happily, in recent years, we started to see a real change in the perception and coverage of women’s sports. But will the crisis have a damaging impact on these positive developments?
Women’s sport, developed so far, so quickly, that there is now the risk that the foundations are not strong enough. Tammy Parlour, co-founder of the Women’s Sport Trust, said: “We have to acknowledge there is a very real threat to women’s sport, especially as, under pressure, people often revert to the old ways of doing things.”, Since women’s sport is not yet deeply rooted in our culture, sport has reverted to something almost exclusively male.
The lack of media coverage of women’s sport is another contributing factor. Most of the big debates revolve around male athletes and teams. During the pandemic, media have broadcast men’s rather than women’s matches. We could watch England lose to Croatia in men’s football and twice in hockey, but not see Great Britain’s women’s hockey team win a gold medal. This shows that although women’s matches are just as entertaining, their victories are considered less important that defeats by men’s teams.
With most sporting events cancelled or postponed around the world, and little or no media coverage, economic realities are biting hard. In addition, most female athletes have no salary, and when they do, it is lower than the equivalent man, so they are now fending for themselves. Women’s sport is particularly dependent on brand sponsorship, and with companies currently financially weakened by the crisis, their commitment to sport is under threat.
But women’s sport has potential to rise again and there are several ways to strengthen it after the pandemic.
It needs to become a bigger part of our sporting culture, and for that to happen, there needs to be more media coverage, but also athletes need to make their voices heard on social networks. Traditional platforms may not care too much for women’s sport but there’s opportunities on YouTube, Twitch or OTT channels.
Governing bodies need to increase numbers of participants and fans. Supporting the women’s game would help them do this. The public also expects governing bodies to invest more in their women’s programmes which they see as more progressive and inspiring compared to men’s sports. This engagement is something sponsors are keen on.
Women’s sport will be affected by the Covid-19 crisis from a micro perspective. At the macro level there is a feeling of optimism. As Alice Dearing, Britain’s best open water swimmer has said, this forced break has allowed women athletes to become even more determined and to come back stronger than before.
There are many influential female personalities in sport. Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, and others inspire and serve as an example to young girls. But by also collectively working to put women’s and men’s sport on the same level, we can turn hope into action. Reducing inequality in sport would be a great victory.