If women’s sport struggles for coverage it’s not because of sexism - it’s because you can’t make people care

When Ireland’s World Cup adventure is over, people will just keep watching the sport they always watch

Lynne Cantwell: the issue of media overage of the Ireland player and her team-mates is complicated. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Lynne Cantwell: the issue of media overage of the Ireland player and her team-mates is complicated. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 06:00

A man can tie himself up in all sorts of knots with this stuff. This column was going to begin with a story about Lynne Cantwell and two members of The Irish Times sports department upstairs in the Oxford Street Debenhams in London. On the working theory that no land bank of life experience can be allowed to go unfarmed for anecdotal purposes, the fact that she helped the pair of us buy ties back in January was going to be cultivated till the ground ran bare.

It was going to be a wry tale wherein we were rescued from our general male uselessness by the endless patience of the Ireland centre who helped us pick out appropriate neckwear at short notice for a function that night, thereby not disgracing the newspaper.

In time, it would have broadened out into a general piece about coverage of women’s’ sport – the overarching gist of which would have been that we can all do better (but with the gentle reminder that this is the kind of paper where we pal around with Irish sportswomen in London so, y’know, don’t blame us and so on).

Mild panic

Yet halfway through it, mild panic set in. If that was one of the men’s rugby team we were with in London that night and if he had been the one to show us to the menswear department, would it have been similarly used as column fodder?

Chances are it would (see aforementioned working theory) but, equally, chances are that the tone would have been different.

Would that be fair? Would that be right? If not, would it earn me a page the next volume of Everyday Sexism? Would I be hashtagged to within an inch of my pathetic male life once the column went up on Twitter? Shouldn’t I be?

So it can be complicated, attempting to plot a well-meaning course through how to engage with and cover women’s sport. That’s okay though. It’s a big area and it should be complicated. On the fringes lie the people who see no sexism whatsoever in modern life and just as many who seek it out in every offhand remark. In the middle stand the vast majority of us, trying to be decent.

Women’s sport’s most basic problem when it comes to media coverage is that you can’t force people to care. It’s the same problem with all areas of sport that don’t get as much attention as they would like. You can’t make people care about the League of Ireland, you can’t make them care about the Paralympics. People will engage or they won’t and all the marketing and media backing in the world will lead only so many horses to water.

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