A red card for SPOTY?

November 27, 2013
Nicola McKelvey

Nominees for the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year 2013 have been announced and yet again, the list causes a lot of chatter. Who should and who shouldn’t be included, what sports are not represented* and where are all the women? ‘Sexist’, ‘sportist’ and ‘elitist’ are all words that have been associated with this year’s list.

SPOTY has a history of controversy. The 2011 list received a lot of criticism for having no female nominees. 2012 was a great year for women in sport – the BBC reported that 36% of Team GB medals and 47% of ParalympicsGB medals won at London 2012 came from women so a list that included 42% of females (five women from a total of 12 people) seems to me to be a fair representation.

However since the heady days of London 2012, everyone seems to have moved on, including the media and the sponsors. The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation states that only 5% of sports media coverage is devoted to women’s sport and just 0.5% of commercial investment goes to women only sport (men get 62.1%).

On the flipside, men play more sport than women. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Taking Part survey from 2012 shows that although more women than ever are playing sport (8.7 million women are playing sport or taking part in recreational walking or cycling for 30 minutes a week compared to 7.7 million in 2005 / 06), women still had lower levels of participation than men (39.7% compared with 49.9% for men).

[quote align=”center” color=”#111111″]I don’t believe women should be on the list for the sake of it. I don’t agree with quotas to get more females in the boardroom. I do believe females should get where they are on merit. By being excellent at what they do.[/quote]

Nevertheless the issue is that women in sport play at top levels and yet are not treated equally in terms of media coverage, funding and sponsorship. All of these aspects play a role but as a communications professional, I believe the media has a huge role to play in helping to raise awareness of women in sport. I understand that more people watch men playing football / golf / cricket / etc. than women playing any of those sports. However it’s a vicious circle. If the media don’t show women in sport, it’s hard for young women to feel inspired to take part in sport, it’s hard to become a fan and support women in that sport and it’s hard to get funding to do that sport.

Some progress is being made. Stylist magazine has been running a ‘fair game’ campaign since early 2012 and it found that for every 53 articles written about sporting men, there is one about a woman. The Sunday Times runs a ‘Sportswomen of the Year’ awards with recently announced sponsor Sky Sports. The report from the BBC website on the 2013 nominees goes to great lengths to promote the female angle: Hannah Cockcroft and Christine Ohuruogu are two of the three athletes first mentioned, it refers to the fact Clare Balding and Gabby Logan will present the awards alongside Gary Lineker, it mentions how Baroness Grey-Thompson, Dame Kelly Holmes and Liz Nicholl from UK Sport were on the judging panel and with impressive editorial independence, it gives a nod to the criticism of the all-male list in 2011. But is this enough? Where is Laura Trott, Non Stanford or Becky James?

In the past ten years, two women have won the Sports Personality of the Year award: Dame Kelly Holmes in 2004 and Zara Phillips in 2006. In 60 years, 13 women have won it. As amazing as Hannah and Christine are, I can’t see them winning it this year. So come on British media. Give women a sporting chance.


* Too many other sports to mention but motorsport (Sam Lowe, Tai Woffinden, Tom Sykes), squash (Nick Matthew) and boxing (Carl Froch) seem to feature highly in people’s criticism of the list.

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