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The Rise of Women's Sports and Some New Issues

Dougal Tsakalos-Stewart reports on the increase in popularity surrounding women’s sports, detailing that even with these positives, prevalent injustices still dominate the representation of women in sport.


The female side of the professional sporting world has been dealt an unkind reputation for many years, being labeled as uncompetitive and boring by a large percentage of global sports fans. The main problem seems to be that in comparison to male dominant sports they do not receive as much funding from sponsorships or clubs, or attention in the media, leading to a rift between the two gendered sports. A study in 2021 reported that 61% of women’s sports idols were men, and 98% of men’s sports idols were men as well. [1] However, recent record breaking attendances for multiple female sports as well as an increase of broadcasting services, suggest that there is an increase in its popularity.


The first record to have been smashed was in March of last year at Camp Nou, in Barcelona. The crowd of 91,553 fans for a champions league game between the home team Barcelona and fierce domestic rivals, Real Madrid. [2] This was then followed by a record attendance in the women’s Emirates Fa Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City with 49,094 fans attending. [3] In addition to this, other sports attendance records were also broken, with the Women’s AFL league record being broken in 2020 as well as the WNBA, which broke a 14 year record of highest average viewers with 379,000 viewers. [4] TV viewership was also at a significant increase for all female based sports throughout 2020-2023.


The increase in average viewership of women’s sports in recent times can be attributed to a variety of factors. One reason, which has seen a lot of increase in male viewership especially, is the national pride embedded in the national team tournaments such as the World Cup and Euros. 53% of viewers in the UK of the EURO 2022 tournament were first time watchers cementing the influence of national tournaments on female sports viewership. [5] A further reason is the fact that there is more media coverage, including a female based sports news media outlet named the Women’s Network, which is available on multiple digital platforms including Amazon.


Sponsorships and advertisements have also aided in growing popularity. During “March Madness” which is a college basketball based tournament, there was a campaign launched which included a multitude of advertisements. These advertisements aimed to raise awareness of the lack of attention female sports get in comparison to men. [6] The football association poured 30 million pounds into women and girls football in the UK in early 2021 to “increase the support and development of the grassroots game”. [7]


These sponsorships, advertisements and increase in attention can all raise the standards for how women are treated by associations they work for, as well as gain respect by those watching at home or live. With an increase in overall attention to the sport it gives certain players a platform to not only show their skills as an athlete but also their issues they have experienced as women. The most prominent example is Serena William who is known as both a tennis and feminist icon, openly critiquing sexism and being able to due to her elite status. Her actions have made it easier for female sports stars to go on their athletic journey’s. Another feminist and sports icon, Megan Rapinoe, is best known for her campaign for equal pay between mens and womens football teams, which resulted in a 30% pay increase.


While it is definitely positive that more female athletes are getting recognition, attention and a chance to voice concerns about certain injustices can also be a problem. The issue is not their fault in any way but more due to an unfortunate increase in negative media related trends. With an increase in attention, there is also going to be a noticeably unfortunate increase in the sexulisation of these athletes. This is prominently seen in magazines as well as television advertisements. Examples that come to mind are “This Girl Can” advertisements which all feature women in activewear doing athletic activities. While this advertisement has a positive message behind it, the complaints come from a concern that the advertisement is “choosing to portray women in a seemingly objectified manner”. [8]


A further example of this rare but still problematic media representation of female athletes was the problematic and controversial ESPN yearly issued magazine labeled “The Body”. This annual issue of the sports magazine discusses the trials and hardships that athletes’ bodies face when undergoing their chosen sport. While the magazine illustrates scientific based facts around the body and exercise, and also does a fair job with female representation, there is still a problem concerning readers. The problem is the way that athletes are posed on the cover with a lack of clothes obviously intending to present the body as the main focus. This has raised some issues for both ESPN for choosing this type of cover and the female athletes for supposedly participating in a “women first, athlete second” campaign.


The progress made to have not only female sports but also female athletes at the level where they are ambassadors for multiple different companies, like Sam Kerr is with Nike and Commonwealth Bank, or fight for gender inequalities in the sports they compete in, like Megan Rapinoe has done, is positive. The positives however, don’t make the negatives of sexualisation and objectification from certain media companies invisible, as they could add an expectation to viewers if they decide to watch female based sports. The women’s game has come a long way and will keep evolving but definitely needs to iron out some rough patches.



[1] Curcic, Dimitrije. “Female Athletes Are Invisible to Fans (2,117 People Survey).” Athletic Shoe Reviews, 31 Aug. 1970, https://runrepeat.com/female-athletes-are-invisible-to-fans.

[2] Burhan, Asif. “World-Record Crowd of 91,553 Treated to Women’s Champions League Spectacle at Camp Nou.” Forbes, 4 Apr. 2022, https://www. forbes.com/sites/asifburhan/2022/03/30/world-record-crowd-of-91553-treated-to-spectacle-at-camp-nou/?sh=29900b1dddf2.

[3] Sports Business Journal. “Women’s FA Cup Final Sets New Attendance Record.” Sports Business Journal, 16 May 2022, https://www.sportsbusinessjournal.com/Daily/Global/2022/05/16/Womens-FA-Cup.aspx#:~:text=The%20’22%20Women’s%20FA%20Cup,Arsenal%20at%20Wembley%20 in%20’18.

[4] Gough, Christina. “WNBA Viewers 2022.” Statista, 22 Sep. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1236723/wnba-regular-season-viewers/#:~:- text=The%202022%20Women’s%20National%20Basketball,regular%20season%20in%2014%20years.

[5] Grey, Becky. “Women’s Sport: Research Shows Increase in Viewers in 2022.” BBC, 7 Feb. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/64557964.

[6] Adgate, Brad. “Popularity of Women’s Sports Surges Approaching 50th Anniversary of Title IX.” Forbes, 12 Oct. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ bradadgate/2022/04/07/popularity-of-womens-sports-has-been-surging/?sh=605cc7703613.

[7] Wrack, Suzanne. “Fa Agrees New £30m Three-Year Deal for Women’s Football.” The Guardian, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2021/dec/15/football-association-agrees-new-30m-three-year-deal-for-female-football.

[8] McVey, Laura, and Paul Harrison. “This Girl Can Campaign Simply Reworks ‘Sex Sells’ Approach.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Aug. 2017, https:// www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/this-girl-can-campaign-simply-reworks-sex-sells-approach-20170808-gxrd6i.html.

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