I have 29 sports channels. And the only women are in leotards
Harriet Walker was riled by the men-only list for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. But remote in hand, she soon found out why...
The upper hundreds of the remote control are alien to me, between the films and the evangelical preachers.
But after the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year threw up its male-only shortlist, and those newspapers and magazines involved with the nominations attempted to shore up their assertions that no sportswomen have made the grade this year, I began to wonder what exactly goes on between One Man and His Dog and The God Channel.
I'm at home with a broken leg and I didn't think my eyes could get any more square. But after a full day searching for a female presence on 29 sports channels, they were practically out on stalks. It's little wonder no-one sees fit to nominate sporting females because there's no chance to acquaint oneself with any of their number. The closest I came to a high-ranking sportswoman was a Madame Tussauds segment on This Morning, where European heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis tweeted Philip Schofield to ask if he'd kiss her waxwork's relentlessly beaming face.
I appreciate that the finest sporting achievements are not to be found on a channel called "Extreme" at 11am but there are plenty of other stations devoted to playing and re-playing sporting highlights from mainstream events. For one programme, the listings simply read "Football, Football, Football, Futbol". I've never heard of the latter, but I assume it's a regional variation played in Scotland. Elsewhere I can watch cricket, motor racing, horse racing and golf. I can even watch a biathlon event in which Norwegian men stagger uphill on skis like Tina Turner and then stop to shoot things. It goes on all night too, with re-runs, and analytics and montages and screenings of former glories. A Manchester United win from 1971 happily straddled the 3pm until teatime lag-time; the Ashes 1981 took up all morning. It's really saying something if women's sport is so bad or boring or non-existent that we should have to watch fuzzy, badly coiffed footballers kicking something from 40 years ago.
Does the prevailing hegemony decree that female sports are not interesting enough for TV? Is it because women don't watch sport? Is it because there are simply fewer events and therefore less to show? Given the abstruse nature of the televised sports coverage that I encountered, then this last shouldn't be too much of a problem. I sat through the Carp Angling Championships after all (It was the men's event, I should point out, because there's no such thing as a women's event.) "It was a real gripper last year," gurns the presenter, "and this year will be no different."
Several hours later, I came across my first fully fledged female sporting event: a triathlon in Mexico edited down to 10 minutes, so that there was more time for the football that came on next. Later, a women's biathlon dominated by some Swedish blondes urged on by patriotic, screaming crowds. Swimmer Rebecca Adlington won world championship gold this year; taekwondo athlete Sarah Stevenson claimed her third world title. Four British cyclists won World Cup team pursuit track gold in the small hours of yesterday morning. Are none of these women interesting enough? Imagine the BBC's nominations list with no ethnic minorities on it. The fact is, the BBC's award relies on popular choice, not specialist didacticism. As we see on X Factor, it isn't always those you expect who win; people like a story. How will women in sport ever get the publicity they deserve if they are not represented on this list? TV certainly won't make them household names.
I also managed to fit in figure skating, which was certainly the most entertaining thing I watched all day. After that, Aerobics Oz Style, which is not women's sport per se but was the only thing to feature one in a role beyond presenter or clothes horse. These were just the opposite in fact: in all my years of doing aerobics with other women – be they students, high-powered execs or mums – I have never seen anyone practise in so few clothes and so much make-up. After a rigorous half-hour work-out, which promised to "recruit my abdominal muscles" (you'll need a city headhunter to do that) and several fortuitous down-top camera angles, it was back to the angling which, as predicted, was a real gripper.
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