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Female athletes still face a lack of representation in the media

Photo courtesy of Marta Kierkus

This summer, the 2014 FIFA World Cup unfolded with its usual fervor. Fans flooded into local pubs to watch the games, while others paraded through the streets and pinned flags to their cars. Spectacular moments sparked social media firestorms, with fans from all over the globe announcing which team had scored, and which penalties were totally undeserved. There was no avoiding World Cup fever, even if you wanted to.

Yet as Canada took on Germany in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup quarterfinals on Aug. 16, the country went about its usual day-to-day business, largely unaware that Canada was competing in the tournament, let alone hosting it. Little suggests that next year will be any different when we host the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

For Canadians, who purport themselves to be great fans of the game, hosting these tournaments should be a dream come true, since it is a rare chance to see our own talent compete on our own fields.

So why do so few people seem to care or even know about these female-centric sporting events?

The problem is the lack of official media coverage, certainly, but our own inability to indulge in women’s sports the same way we do in men’s sports is also to blame.

According to FIFA’s Television Audience Report for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the 71,867 hours of live broadcast reached a total of 2.2 billion viewers throughout the tournament, which is an average of 188.4 million viewers per game. In contrast, the same report conducted for the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany found that durng the 5,931 hours of live broadcast, a mere total of 248.5 million viewers tuned in, an average of only 13.2 million per game.

“The core problem is that . . . the full acceptance of women’s sports as a serious area for sports in the media is a long way off,” John Doyle wrote for the Globe and Mail back in 2011. “There is a knee-jerk inclination to compare the merit of women’s sports with men’s sports and find the female ver- sion wanting.”

I agree with Doyle on that point, as I’m sure many others do, so we must ask ourselves: Why is this the case?

Many men will claim, despite their feminist inclinations, that they prefer to watch males compete because they want to watch the very best athletes that professional sports have to offer. Since men are biologically stronger and faster than their female counterparts, they are often considered to be the best athletes and are therefore the most entertaining to watch.

Unfortunately, refuting this argument is not that simple. As reported in the Atlantic, studies have shown that, in many sports, women achieve world records an average of 10 per cent lower than men. But surely 10 per cent in athletic performance cannot account for the 2 billion more viewers of the men’s World Cup.

The answer to this uneven representation lies, more than likely, in the media coverage of these events. The Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport found that although 40 per cent of sports participants are female, women’s sports receive only 4 per cent of all media coverage.

That needs to change.

In the meantime, commentators such as the Globe and Mail’s Cathal Kelly should refrain from calling the men’s World Cup “the real prize” and “the ultimate draw,” as he did in a recent article about the U-20 women’s team. Foolish statements like these only serve to perpetuate the idea that the Women’s World Cup is subordinate to the “real” World Cup.

The rest of us should do our part by celebrating the accomplishments of our U-20 women’s team, and by carrying that energy into 2015. The World Cup has finally come to Canada. It’s time we started acting like it.