POSTED: October 12th 2010

Identity a key factor for women in sport - on both sides of the TV cameras

Jessica Ennis: also known as Britain's European heptathlon gold medallist . . . /
Jessica Ennis: also known as Britain's European heptathlon gold medallist . . . /

IOC member Anita DeFrantz has chaired the women and sport commission for 15 years / lake images
IOC member Anita DeFrantz has chaired the women and sport commission for 15 years / lake images

KEIR RADNEDGE in Monaco / Sports Features Communications

MONTE CARLO, Oct 12: What’s in a name? That was the challenge raised by Anita DeFrantz in pointing up the gap in promotional and broadcasting credibility which, she believes, may hinder the progress of women in sport.

DeFrantz, president of the International Olympic Committee's women and sport commission, raised the difference at SPORTELMonaco in a symposium at the Grimaldi Forum on this very issue and subtitled: ‘The influence of women: chance for sport.’

Debate extended into why men’s sport generally aggregates far greater coverage - in terms of TV time and column inches – compared with women’s sport. But time and again the seven speakers on the panel and as many in the audience, on both sides of the argument, tripped over the hurdle of cultural convention.

Discrimination against women in sport was discussed not only in terms of athletic and screen visibility but also in terms of administrative roles within both sport and sports broadcasting.

This was where DeFrantz raised identity, saying: “When it’s a woman competing she is addressed by her first name and when it’s a man he’s addressed by his last name. If you don’t have the gravitas of a last name how can you be taken seriously? It’s Martina, Chrissie, Venus, Serena but Agassi, Sampras and so on: the seriousness with which women are portrayed is a big question.

“This is called infantilism, thinking women are not as important as a man: you would never address a man by the first name if you did not know him but a women, yes.

“Respect for athletes and Olympic movement must be based on mutual respect and fairplay. You do see that during the Olympic Games yet five days after the Games it’s back to the old approach.”

Broadcasting complexity

The rigour of DeFrantz’s stance was disputed by Barbara Slater, former Olympic gymnast who is now BBC’s director of sport. Slater suggested that broadcasters were merely reflecting and serving the expectations of viewers and, hence, society.

She said: “It’s a highly complex issue. For example, we invested a lot in showing the Women’s European Football Championship thinking that women would watch it but it was the percentage of male viewers which increased tremendously. We found women chose not to watch whereas they would watch Premier League football.

“If you have an individual athlete who will potentially win an Olympic medal, particularly in the UK, she will be celebrated as much as a male athlete. If they called Jessica not Thompson then that is reflecting a society norm and it is difficult to pull apart the way women are introduced on TV. It can sound quite rude if you are; ‘Ennis.’

“In day to day life there are different conventions . . . it’s what broadcasters think men and women want.”

Ingrid Deltenre, Dutch director-general of the European Broadcasting Union, picked up on the cultural issue as it concerns men and women in sport and sports broadcasting.

She said: “Having more women in decision-making roles is important, especially in sport. Sport reflects very well the female position in society. If you look at the Nordic countries then you see the position of women [in the media] is more important than by comparison with southern countries.

“I was always against quotas though I sometimes think about them as relevant to associations and executive boards. It would change an organisation, the way we do business and the way we communicate.

"This is already taking off but not as fast as we would like.”

Keywords · Sportel · Slater · DeFrantz · women in sport · IOC · Deltenre · BBC

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