I was mulling over what to write about this month. Should I preview the European Championships in football, or the cricket Ashes, or look at the current athletics scene?
And then I went to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation summer party, intended to be a celebration of women’s sporting achievements over the past year, with a particular nod to the London 2012 Olympics.
Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, was rightly proud of her department’s achievements in screening the Games.
But to claim that the event and the coverage was “gender-neutral” was going just a little bit too far.
Let’s leave aside that the men still have more events to compete in than women. Slater said that no Team GB gold-medal-winning woman got less coverage than her male counterpart.
Perhaps. But what kind of coverage did she get?
Maybe she got Gary Lineker enthusing about how beautiful her smile is (which is what happened to boxer Nicola Adams).
Maybe she found that her sporting achievements were sidelined in favour of men’s magazine “approval” (which is what happened to Hannah Cockroft, deemed Team GB’s “sexiest Paralympian” by FHM, who no doubt thought they were being ever so radical and right-on by objectifying Paralympic athletes as well as Olympians).
That’s not to say that the BBC didn’t do a great job – they did. But it would be foolhardy to think that they or any other media organisation are “gender-neutral”. In fact, they proved that on Wimbledon ladies’ finals day, with John Inverdale musing on the new champion thus: “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little ‘you’re never going to be a looker?'”
This discussion of appearance and conventional attractiveness is something which just does not happen in men’s sport. As Sarah Ditum tweeted shortly after this happened:
I searched “Andy Murray ugly” to test the stick given to male players, returned a load of abuse about his mum. Fucking people are awful.
— Sarah Ditum (@sarahditum) July 6, 2013
So yes, by all means, well done. Pat yourself on the back for screening all of England’s games in the upcoming Euro 2013. Look back fondly on last year and smile happily about giving the little ladies plenty of air-time.
But perhaps you should start thinking about what sports and athletes you’re covering – and why you’re covering them – and how you’re covering them.
And when your presenters and reporters are offensively sexist about a top-class champion, don’t just force them to apologise – think about the attitude they’re embodying, and think about why they thought it was acceptable to express those thoughts.
And then perhaps you could think again about whether or not you, your coverage and your institution are really “gender-neutral”.