A few days ago Netball Australia’s CEO, Kate Palmer, argued that female athletes need to stop blaming the media for lack of coverage of female sports and look to their sport’s governing body to redress the problem. Her comments follow an article by Melissa Barbieri,
captain of the Australian Women’s soccer team (aka the Matildas), complaining about hypocrisy in the media. I agree that each sport is responsible for building its own brand and making itself newsworthy. But what happens when you do that, as I believe netball has done, and your sport is still ignored by the media? As I’ve argued before netball seems invisible to mainstream media.
As Kate Palmer points out the ANZ Championship is a great product; it’s the best netball tournament in the world (or in their words the hottest game in town). But, last Saturday, the day before the Grand Final in Adelaide, which reportedly sold out in 12 minutes (we can but dream of such things in the UK), coverage of the match in Adelaide’s biggest newspaper was bumped off the front page for a story about the resignation of an AFL coach. Needless to say, Aussie Rules footie is important in Australia but I bet that Australian netball fans are just as passionate about netball and surely on this occasion the netball story should have been the lead story.
It might not be the media’s job to give all sports equal coverage but wouldn’t you expect all mainstream sports to be given coverage proportionate to its fan base and level of participation? Isn’t it the media’s job to attempt to cover the sports that are of interest to its readers/viewers/listeners. Netball has done a lot in recent years to modernise (some would say “sex up”) its image and make itself seem more attractive. But you can only go so far down that path before you stop focusing on the beauty of the game and the great skill of the athletes and obsess too much about image (check out the American Lingerie Football League for a nightmare version of the future for female sports). Netballers, and no doubt the Matildas and other female athletes want more recognition and for their sport to be taken seriously. Female athletes also provide good role models for young girls who need more encouragement to participate in sport and to continue to play sport past their teenage years.
The truth is, there is a bias towards male-dominated sports (how else do you explain the intense coverage of games like snooker and darts in the UK) and there are plenty of articles and research that argue the same point. The Matildas are dedicated athletes and so far their achievements outstrip those of their male counterparts. Yes, I know it’s a lot harder for the Socceroos to shine on the world stage of men’s soccer. But Palmer also says there’s more interest in the Socceroos than the Matildas because the men are high profile, international athletes. I imagine that soccer is pretty low down the pecking order in Australia as it has to compete with rugby union, rugby league, AFL and cricket. Considering their respective achievements to date, why do the Socceroos have a high profile but the Matildas barely get a mention until they win a major tournament?
It would be interesting to see what coverage is given to the upcoming Test Series in Australia when the Australian Netball Diamonds take on Jamaica and the Silver Ferns. Top class netball involving 3 of the 4 highest ranking teams in the world.
If netball was a male-dominated sport it would get significantly media coverage. No question. I guess then my question is, what more does netball need to do to get the attention it deserves?