GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Changing mindsets about female sports coverage

The St Catherine's, Armagh squad which won the Lidl All-Ireland Post Primary School Junior A Final at the weekend.

BONNIE Bramlett. Kate Bush. Isobel Campbell. Rosanne Cash. Kim Deal. Tanya Donelly. Aretha Franklin. Liz Fraser. Emmylou. PJ Harvey. Maria McKee. Christine McVie. Emma Pollock. Lucinda Williams.

Yeah, yeah – ‘you can take the boy out of the country…’ and all that.

More than genre, though, the point is gender. Many of my favourite musical artists are female.

The same can’t be said for me and sport – but that’s not a boast.

Chris Evert. Steffi Graf. Venus and Serena. Beyond those tennis players, though?

Most of us, certainly most males, are culturally conditioned to believe that men’s sport is better.

It’s certainly faster and more powerful – but it’s not necessarily more skilful though. Nor more entertaining. Often, for example, women’s tennis is a better watch, especially on grass.

Golfer Stephanie Meadow made interesting observations about attitudes and perceptions:

“I played a pro-am and most of them had never been to an LPGA or Symetra Tour event before – but almost every single one of them says `I actually really enjoy this, even a little bit more than the men’s’, because the average male golfer drives it around 250 yards, which is what we’re hitting as well, so it’s more relatable.

“Guys like Rory [McIlroy] are hitting it 360, 380 [yards] – that’s just off the planet, nobody is going to be able to do that.

“The first step is actually getting them there so they can realise that, and that’s hard in itself.

“Also, if you make a 30-foot putt to win, why’s that more exciting on the men’s side than on the women’s side? It’s not. And it’s still a seven-iron to two feet.

“Golf might be one of the most comparable sports. I understand in other sports that women are not as fast or whatever, but there’s still excitement to it.

“It’s just that people are so conditioned to believe that ‘Ah, it’s women’s sport, whatever’. I was even like that, it’s just so conditioned in you. You have to be conscious of it – and then make a change.”

Golfer Stephanie Meadow is an advocate for greater coverage of, and more participation in, female sports.
Picture by Hugh Russell

Even though I did that interview with Stephanie, it’s still hard to alter mindsets - even my own.

No one really likes taking criticism, but I’m worse at that than most people (although only I am allowed to say that).

It’s particularly irksome when one raises a bar – and then someone still beats you with it.

To explain: Monday’s paper, perhaps for the first time ever, had on the bulk of the two ‘inside back’ pages, coverage of ladies football, by our excellent correspondent, Louise Gunn.

I felt rather proud of making that decision, even though there was an obvious argument in its favour: had it been the last round of the men’s football league, we would have undoubtedly given over those two pages, and the back, and many more. Probably a pic on the front page too.

Still, my flabber was genuinely gasted when a granny called up to complain that we hadn’t done enough regarding the All-Ireland Junior A Schools Final victory by St Catherine’s, Armagh.

She compared and contrasted it unfavourably with the amount of coverage we gave to the Hogan Cup Final triumph by St Michael’s, Enniskillen.

My instincts are almost always to argue, as my wife and family can attest, even though I’ve learned that ‘Sorry’ isn’t actually the hardest word at all.

I retorted that few, if any, other daily papers gave the same space to ladies and schools sports as we do and did.

The caller didn’t care: she only buys The Irish News. Fair point.

In our defence, St Catherine’s was at Junior level, St Michael’s being Senior.

Another point is the level of interest: the Hogan Final attracted a bigger attendance.

Yet this lady caller remained unconvinced. And she had a point there too.

We’re culturally conditioned to believe that men’s sport merits much more (indeed the vast majority of) coverage.

So, to that proud granny, and to St Catherine’s, I say: ‘Sorry’.

I should have insisted on more words and more pictures in the paper. I should have ensured that the report and photographs went on our website. (That was rectified yesterday morning).

Of course, difficult decisions have to be made about use of space in newspapers.

We have to get the balance right, so that the amount of coverage we provide correlates to the level of interest in any game or sport.

I stick by the view that St Michael’s deserved more coverage – but not as much more as we gave it. And St Catherine’s merited more than they got.

I still believe that this has to be a circular process - but perhaps more coverage can drive more support rather than the other way round.

The media does reflect society, but it can also influence situations.

The message of the ‘20 x 20’ campaign, aimed at increasing coverage of and participation in female sports, puts it well: ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it’.

More grannies and mums and sisters and daughters should go to girls’ and women’s games and sports – but maybe they will do so if they see them getting more airtime and column inches, in advance and afterwards.

More grandas and dads and brothers and sons should go to those games too. Obviously. After all, your mums and sisters and wives and girlfriends support you, so why shouldn’t you support them?

Just one suggestion, dear readers. You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.

So, by all means, hold to us account, but rather than shouting ‘That wasn’t good enough!’ try saying ‘Thanks for that – but could we have some more next time, please?’

No need to beg, just be nice.

And, of course, buy a paper.

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