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That’s What She Said: Media Representation of Women in Sports

Female athletes are routinely underrepresented in the media, which is not only an insult to them, but also creates a barrier for girls who aspire to pursue a career in the field.

Oct 26, 2019

As an avid cricket fan, the Summer of 2019 was one of the most exciting times of my cricket-watching career. After having witnessed one of the most epic ICC World Cup Final matches – between New Zealand and England – the iconic Ashes series between Australia and England was an extraordinary treat. However, between the nail-biting World Cup games and the intense five day long Ashes matches, I, along with most of the mainstream media, ignored the making of a new cricket world record: one accomplished by a female.
In July, Australian all-rounder Ellyse Perry became the [first cricketer] ( to score a thousand runs and take a hundred wickets in the twenty over format of the game. In 104 T20 games, Perry not only made the world record but also significantly contributed in the Australian Women’s Team’s victory of the iconic Ashes series against arch-rivals, England. However, while history was being created by one of the best athletes of the game, most cricket media channels and analysts were busy covering the upcoming Ashes series being played by Perry’s male counterparts.
Women’s cricket has always been deprived of adequate media coverage. Whether it is the Board of Control for Cricket in India or Cricket Australia, national cricket boards fail to value their female athletes with the same platform to showcase their achievements. In the eyes of both the general audience and the multiple international tournaments in which they cannot participate, female cricketers often begin and end their careers in the shadows of their male counterparts.
Unfortunately, the lack of recognition of female athletes and their achievements – especially through marketing and promotion in mainstream media – is not unique to cricket.
According to the statistics provided by UNESCO in 2018, 40 percent of athletes are women, yet women’s sporting events only receive four percent of all sport media coverage. The lack of visibility of female athletes, especially in team sports, lays a foundation for multiple gender-based injustices – from the [huge pay gap] ( to the absence of proper maternity care. It also leads to a massive gap in the representation of half the world’s population in the sports industry.
Growing up, as I memorized Chelsea FC’s anthem or cheered for the Australian cricket team, I did not even question the absence of sportswomen in the matches I passionately followed. Like many young girls, I had internalized competitive sports as a masculine sector that I could never dream of being a part of. According to Women’s Sports Foundation, young female athletes in the United States fear being thought of as masculine by their peers and may even face bullying and social isolation resulting in them completely dropping out of the sport. The report claimed that by the age of 14, U.S American girls drop out of sports, at double the rate of their male counterparts.
Although participating in sports has multiple benefits to girls’ self-image and self-esteem, the underrepresentation of women in sports plays a major role in decreasing the likelihood of middle school and high school girls continuing to take part in sports. Unlike young boys, young girls lack the luxury of celebrating and relating to more than a handful of female athletes. This lack of female leaders in the sports industry further discourages young girls and women from envisioning themselves in positions of power, especially at a professional level. This pattern also leads to the internalizing of a patronizing attitude towards women in sports. Among the 1,800 people who took part in a poll, CNN reported that 32 percent of women and 47 percent of men believed that men were better than women at sports.
Although the status of women in sports has come a long way – with some sports associations moving towards equal monetary prizes for tournaments and a massive increase in viewership – proper recognition for female athletes still has a long way to go. Media reporters still have to be reminded to cover female athletes – even ones as highly celebrated as Serena Williams – by the same standards as their male counterparts.
The lack of proper recognition of female athletes not only deprives female athletes of a platform to openly speak up about their struggles, but it also creates a barrier for young girls and women to pursue careers as athletes . An increase in media coverage will normalize the presence of women in sports and help us move past the conception of the field as a male domain, encouraging the participation of more women in the field.
Aasna Sijapati is News Editor. Email her at
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