By Danielle Ford.
It’s been a huge 12 months in women’s sport in Australia.
The inaugural AFL women’s competition was a roaring success, reaching levels of popularity even the AFL themselves weren’t expecting. The new Suncorp Super netball is firing along, being broadcast on free-to-air in prime-time and attracting large numbers of viewers each week. The women’s Big Bash League had another amazing season, drawing large crowds to the stadiums and on TV. All this progress for the females, but there is one thing still separating them from that ‘elite’ status the men have.
When reporting on female sporting matches, the media just don’t seem to take the games as seriously. Any AFL, NRL or A-League team that plays a horrendous game will be torn to shreds in newspapers and on social media. Every detail is picked apart with intense scrutiny and when it comes to a team’s poor performance, there’s no filter. However, when a women’s team plays a bad game, encouraging phrases like “the Thunderbirds, so spirited beforehand, fell away” are used. If the talented women athletes in this country are to be taken seriously, it needs to start with the media coverage of their sports. It’s all well and good to give them air time, but the public won’t take the games seriously if the media don’t either.
Take two teams for example, Hawthorn in the AFL and the Adelaide Thunderbirds in the Suncorp Super Netball. Both teams have had years of success in the past, winning championships and consistently finishing in the top half of the ladder and they have both had horror seasons to date. A couple of weeks ago Hawthorn was flogged by St Kilda, and journalists and commentators tore them apart. The Australian ran an article with the headline ‘Saint’s flog hapless Hawks’.
“Such dominance looked like a distant memory for the hapless Hawks, whose lack of pressure and dreadful skills would surely be raising alarm bells for coach Alastair Clarkson,” the article says.
In contrast, the Thunderbirds also copped a belting from the Melbourne Vixens a few weeks ago, but the media were significantly easier on them. The Thunderbirds were beaten just as convincingly as Hawthorn were in their game and played just as poorly, but you would know from the coverage of their game. Despite being thrashed by 21 goals, a report in The Advertiser describes their performance by saying “while there was no lack of spirited fight from the Thunderbirds, they fell behind by 12 goals at the final change”. Similarly, in their nine goal loss to the Sunshine Coast Lightning, ESPN Australia went easy on the team, writing “The Thunderbirds remain rooted to the foot of the ladder with just one win from nine matches, but they will take much encouragement from their second-half performance”.
The women of Australian sport have fought so hard for better pay and more coverage. They have come so far in the past year in solidifying their place in sport. However, if they are to ever clear that final hurdle and be considered equal to their male counterparts, the media needs to stop wrapping them in cotton wool.