In my eyes, there is no difference between women’s and men’s sport. Whatever the sport, it portrays individuals working hard to achieve their own goals and dreams. Whether that is in football, netball, gymnastics or athletics, there is always a place for women in every sport, just as much as men. However, not everyone thinks like this, and unfortunately, there is far less coverage of women’s sport compared to men’s. This can be incredibly influential in making women/girls feel as though they don’t belong in the sporting world, but this is not how it should be!
Women, just as much as men, train hard and dedicate their lives to their sport, therefore, women’s sport deserves to receive the same amount of publicity as men’s sport, but it doesn’t. It isn’t only young boys that need to be inspired by watching other men playing sports on the tv or reading about them in the newspaper, girls also need to see women! Without exposure for women in sport, young girls don’t know the opportunities out there for them in the sporting world. They aren’t aware of how many women do actually pursue a sport competitively. All they see is the domination of men in sports, particularly rugby and football.
Research has shown that whilst women do account for 40% of all sports participation, only a shocking 4-10% of sports coverage is of women, and that’s on average in newspapers, on tv, and on the radio, etc. It is considerably higher in the UK than in other countries, such as Greece, where only 2% of sports coverage is of women, however the UK statistics are still astonishingly low! This shows that 90-96% of sports coverage is purely of men’s events! This statistic is improving, and companies such as The Telegraph have started publishing a women’s sport supplement, but it’s not happening quickly enough! Whilst there are so many factors to discuss about the effect of minimal female sports coverage, one of the more prevalent issues is the impact this has on young girls and women looking to pursue a sport.
We live in a world where sport is dominated by men, well what we see of it. Therefore, it is very easy for young girls and women to feel alienated if they wish to pursue a sporting career. If all that is seen in the newspaper and on the tv is male footballers or men playing darts, women are likely to feel as though there is no place for them in such events. This however, couldn’t be further from the truth and media coverage needs to reflect this.
In 2019, a study was conducted showing that 71% of people in the UK believe that having more women’s sport on the TV would have a positive effect on girls and women taking part in sports. This ultimately suggests that a monumental way to boost female participation in sport is to show them that other women are doing it too.
If the world is going to inspire the current and next generation of sportswomen, we need to show top athletes in action, whether they are male or female equally. If we don’t, how are women meant to see the things they could be capable of with hard work. This takes me to a prime example.
At this year’s British championships, the women’s 5,000m (the only distance event of the meet) wasn’t initially due to be televised. The broadcasting schedule was due to stop at 9pm, and the women’s 5,000m was due to start at 9:05pm. It is absurd that the only distance track race of the night, therefore the only opportunity for female distance runners to inspire other athletes who may be watching, wasn’t scheduled to be televised. After the issue around this was raised by plenty of people, it was put on the red button. Why is it that only AFTER receiving backlash, the event was then added to the TV schedule?! A key factor to women feeling encouraged to partake in a competitive sport, is if they see other determined women doing the same thing. I know there have been major developments in such areas, but there is still a very long way to go. When will women’s sport be taken as seriously as men’s and automatically receive the same publicity? (Without backlash having to occur to evoke change!)
Not only is it the level of coverage that is a problem, but also the focus of existing coverage. There was a recent athletics event where the commentators felt the need to address the body shape and size of some of the athletes, saying, “You can actually tell, just by looking at the way that they’re built, that they’re [laughs], the pacemakers. Much more muscle mass on our two pacemakers.”. This immediately suggests that in order to be fast you need to be small! Not a great advert to those young girls that were watching and feel this is how they need to look to be fast and successful runners. There is so much more to comment on, as evidenced by men’s sporting events where body image is extremely rarely commented on. This should be addressed immediately in order to support all bodies, of all genders, in all sports. This is a topic I could go on forever about, but for this blog, I’ll keep it short.
It starts at school.
As you progress through senior school, more and more girls drop out of sport, coming up with any excuse not to have to do sports day or run around the fields before PE, therefore, you feel this is what you should be doing. If you only run inside of school, not with an athletics club, and likewise with other sports, you aren’t aware that there are other girls pursuing sport, therefore you can feel alone and isolated.
We should be promoting girls in all sports and talking to children about pursuing their sporting dreams at school from a young age. Therefore, we need to show girls that women can and do partake in all sports. Even if they don’t see it on TV or in the newspaper now, they will hopefully as a process of normality in the future. By making women’s sport more normalised and showing that there is a need and demand to cover it, ideally this will increase the media coverage of female sports. This will also help show the depth of talent of female athletes, and show young girls that no matter how you look, with dedication, you too can be as successful as those sportswomen on TV.
Aspire to your own journey...
As athletes, both young and old, there are always going to be people we aspire to be like. Whether they are professional athletes, or the first PE teacher we had at school, at some point we wanted to be like someone else. There’s no denying we need this in our lives, as it is the people we look up to that give us guidance. However, we are asked questions such as... ‘who do you want to be when you grow up?’ at school, suggesting we’re sort of expected to want to grow up to become someone other than ourselves.
Growing up, there were many well-known athletes, such as Paula Radcliffe and Jessica Ennis, who I aspired to be like. The amount they inspired me was phenomenal. I would even go as far as saying, if I hadn’t seen them perform on the television or read about their achievements, I wouldn’t have been inspired to embark on my own athletic journey to the same extent. My love for running was 100% down to the immediate people around me from a young age who loved the sport, but my ambition to take it to a more competitive level came from these world class athletes.
However, whilst I still find such figures extremely inspiring and motivating, it isn’t necessarily the desire to be like them that drives me. It once was, but now it isn’t. Instead of aspiring to be like a certain individual, I aspire to achieve things similar to them or to withstand the testing aspects of sport, like I now know they would’ve had to.
When I watch events such as the Olympics or the World Championships, it now gives me a different aspirational feeling. The people I watch inspire me, but specifically, it is watching them perform at such a high level, knowing the ups and downs they have endured, that I continue to aspire to echo. Something that I didn’t know when I was younger, was the lack of linearity to any sports person’s journey. Watching high class athletes on the television reminds me to never give up. Whilst I don’t want to be exactly like them, because we are all our own unique selves, watching them reinforces the fact that if you don’t give up on your dreams and ambitions, and you ride the ups and downs, you may end up in a similar position to them! You never know unless you try!
Stick with it.
I ultimately aspire to see my journey through to the point where I know I have given my all and there is nothing more I can do. This is why it is so great to see such inspirational athletes compete, because it reminds you of what can be achieved with determination, dedication and persistence.
Perhaps, when you are younger, and you aren’t told about the ups and downs of sport, and you only see the impressive end results, you do wish you were like that individual, because you aren’t aware of the journey behind what you see on the screen. I know that each individual experiences a different journey and this reminds me that I don’t want to be like any of them, in fact, I want to be myself, on my own journey. I want to reflect the determination those high class athletes had, but I don’t want to be exactly like them.
I am on my own journey, and that is what makes me, and you, unique. That is what makes every story all the more interesting, because they are different. Our achievements will never be exactly the same as someone else’s.
The Year of Experience.
With events continuing to get cancelled and our focuses constantly changing, it makes it incredibly difficult to set goals. Therefore, this year is undoubtedly turning into a year of experience rather than achievements. Whilst things can still be achieved, it is a year to not be afraid of trying new things and conquer any weaknesses that we may possess. It is a year to release the pressure we put on ourselves and not worry too much if things go wrong, or not quite to plan. Although we all wish the circumstances were very different, I believe we should try our best to embrace the situation as best we can, and see the lack of pressure as a positive.
If I am completely honest, I was slightly disappointed with my performance at the British champs, not because I didn’t give my all, but because I felt I wasn’t able to relate how training has been going into a race. It can be frustrating when training goes well, but racing doesn't quite reflect it. That being said, we haven't exactly had much race experience this year.
Additionally, considering the tactical way the race was run, I did my best in the circumstances and to get to the British Champs this year was an achievement as I didn't expect to be there. Therefore, on reflection, there are so many positives and so many lessons to take away from the race. The way the race was executed was an experience I have never had before. I have minimal track experience, and even less championship experience. I learnt how championship races can be raced, which is a definite positive to take away. Another positive was how strong I felt mentally. Even when I felt my legs suffering from the pick up towards the end and I was running off the back of the pack, I continued to dig deep and not give up, and this is something I am proud of.
New things in training.
2020 is without a doubt, very far from the year we all thought it would be. However, this is something we have all tried our best to embrace by trialling new things in training. This has allowed us to see what things do work and what don't, and not worry either way. Some people have been more drastic with their changes than others, but it is the lack of pressure that has enabled us to just give things a go. There is no pressure from qualifying races or time constraints, instead we have the opportunity to try new experiences that we may have always wondered if they would work.
Year of positivity.
This year has been an incredibly mentally testing year. For most, who are used to training in groups, they have had to train alone. Those who usually always have a race to work towards are now without an immediate focus. Not only have we had to face changes in relation to running, but all aspects of life have become uncertain and financial pressures have increased. There is only one thing that has made this whole situation more manageable for all, and that is the positivity we have employed. When things get tough, which they have, our positivity and mental determination is put to the test. I truly believe this is something that will help us all in the future, both in and out of running.
So, something I have done is change my outlook on this year. Rather than perceiving it as a year full of negativity, we should see it as a positive year to make changes and undergo new experiences without any pressure.
Recently, someone told me that they thought I was headstrong. I didn’t really think much about what it meant and brushed it to the side. However, I then thought over what they had said and began to think about what headstrong truly meant. It was only in retrospect, I realised that being told I am headstrong is something I am proud of. So, I bet you’re thinking too, what does headstrong mean in relation to running, and how do I perceive it?
I feel, in order to be a runner, you have to be headstrong. We can be stubborn, and some may say obsessed, but our relentless determination is something you can’t knock, because you can’t be without it as a runner. In order to turn up day in and out, even when the weather is shocking or your body is telling you it wants to go back to bed, takes some commitment and self-determination. Lockdown truly proved this. Whilst other people may help us progress to levels we didn’t think possible and make the hard work seem easier, the ability to get those sessions done alone, as we all had to do during lockdown, takes some guts. The desire to constantly enjoy working hard to improve ourselves and be the best runner we can be is what gives us that determination. If you really want something, you will have the determination to work hard to achieve it.
When I think of confidence in relation to the term headstrong, what I think of is not how I feel in myself as an individual, but my confidence in myself when it comes to racing and taking chances. In terms of racing, there are many times when you get on the start line with a race plan in mind, but you get carried away with the group, go out too hard, and the plan falls apart. Having the confidence execute a race plan regardless of what those around you are doing is a powerful trait. Sometimes you do have to just throw it out the window and adapt to the race itself, but other times doing so can end you up in a very painful and messy situation.
Another aspect of confidence is possessing the strength of mind to follow your dreams and aims, even if they may seem unrealistic to other people, no matter what. If we all thought that our goals were too big or our aims unrealistic, we would never step outside of our comfort zone and find out what were are truly capable of.
I think this also links to self-belief. Other people can believe in you immensely, but ultimately, you have to believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter what they think if you don’t feel the same way. It is this self belief that keeps you going each day, as we believe as individuals that we have what it takes to get to where we want. If we didn’t believe in ourselves, there would be no way we would ever achieve our goals.
Persistence is such an important element of being headstrong. This is the ability to get back up after the sport knocks you down, to keep working hard when people tell you to get a ‘proper job’, and to accept that consistency is key. I for one know, when I set mind on doing something, I will do it no matter what anyone else says. Once my mind is made up, that’s it, there is no persuading me otherwise. To others, this incessant persistence may come across as stubbornness or obsession, and maybe it is, but these traits are needed in order to keep heading in the direction we want to. I once read on the inside of a shoe box the saying, ‘Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated’, and whilst this isn’t entirely true, I do feel that some people in society are quick to add negative connotations to the word obsessed. To me, if you want to be any good at something, you need to be obsessed. There is this need to not stop at anything that gets in your when if you want to be the best you can be.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!