I am encouraged by the recent press coverage in response to the BBC Sports Personality shortlist, particularly concerning the responsibility the media have for raising the profile of women’s sport.
Last week I turned to the section in a Sunday newspaper laughingly entitled sport. Of the 20 pages dedicated to sport I found no mention of women other than an article in which an American skier in her twenties had accompanied a much younger skier to his high school dance. The point? Everything to do with her appearance and nothing to do with her skiing ability. One might as well call the section ‘men’s sport’.
In fact, according to Sue Tibballs, CEO of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation “As little as two per cent of all sports media coverage is devoted to female competitors and women’s sport in the UK”. It is unsurprising then, that relatively low numbers of women play sport. Of even more concern is the fact that over 80% of women are not active enough to stay healthy. Studies have also shown that girls who play sport have a better body image than those who do not. This means that regardless of size or shape, they are more comfortable with their bodies.
As a sports enthusiast and headmistress of a girls’ school, I am determined that girls will see sport and exercise as a fundamental part of their lives by the time they leave us, whether this is performing to a national level, enjoying competitive sport or simply leading a healthy and active life.
Girls’ schools are particularly well placed to do this as we are free from the type of unhelpful stereotyping which decrees that being competitive is somehow unfeminine. I find that girls at St Swithun’s simply do not waste time worrying about whether they look attractive in sports kit; they can just get on with enjoying and improving their sport and staying fit.
Sport involves a significant element of self-discipline and teaches girls how to use their bodies so that they see them as means to an end – a healthy body runs fast, performs efficiently and recovers quickly. A body which is just decoratively thin is a lost opportunity.
Surely the media should take more responsibility for promoting sporting role models for all girls to follow, particularly if this ultimately results in greater national success and a healthier nation.