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Women still sporting underdogs

18 August, 2011

Women still sporting underdogs

Former world squash champion Dame Susan Devoy says top-level sports women appear no better off today than they were when she was top in her game. Dame Susan was speaking at the University of Waikato’s Winter Lecture series ‘This Sporting Life’ and said being a female in a minority sport continues to be a challenge – financially and for getting media coverage.

“More money is being poured into sport than ever before, but it’s targeted…yachting, rugby, swimming; god help you if you play a racquet sport. I think no matter what is the sport is, as long as individuals are excelling and are passionate about what they’re doing, they should get support. Smaller sports should think about collaborating to make themselves heard.”

Expert in gender and media Dr Toni Bruce has been studying gender equality in sport for more than 20 years and says there’s been little change in media coverage in that time. Men get between 75 and 80 percent and women get between 10 and 12. “The Olympics is the only time when women’s coverage spikes – probably because women are winning a lot of the medals.”

Dr Bruce says new media might be one way for women to increase their coverage – there being no gatekeepers on the net, but it can also be used to inflate bias, sexism and racism.

Dr Holly Thorpe from Sport and Leisure Studies at Waikato and a former competitive snowboarder says action or extreme sports don’t keep women out. “But women have to prove themselves according to men’s definitions of athleticism and courage – laddishness.”

In contrast to more traditional sports, Dr Thorpe says women competing in extreme sports were often earning as much as men. “The have a highly marketable female identity.” She showed slides of scantily clad snowboarders and surfers posing for magazines and who were quite open about doing it for the money. “They’re athletically brilliant and they’re sexy and aware of their economic worth.”

Dame Susan pointed out that if you looked like the back end of a bus, even if you were brilliant at your sport, you wouldn’t be able to earn the same sort of money. “The challenge is to promote equal opportunities in old and new sports alike. We have to challenge inequalities.”

The next lecture in Waikato’s winter series is titled Rugby, Racing and Beer and examines the economic impact of sport on the region’s economy. Panellists will be Gary Dawson from the Chiefs rugby franchise, Petrea Vela from New Zealand Bloodstock ltd, and Josh White from Hospitality Association of New Zealand. That’s next Wednesday 24 August.


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