On the 22 June 2015 US sportswriter Andy Benoit made a claim that women’s sport is ‘not worth watching’ following the USA-Colombia Women’s World Cup football match. Sports media is, to a large extent, a platform set up for men by men to celebrate the achievements of men. Women’s sport, on the other hand, experiences media silence in comparison which causes the achievements of female athletes to be marginalised and trivialised, despite them putting the same effort into sport as their male counterparts. The problem is that if the public has no exposure to women’s sport they can’t see the battles being fought out. One comment I’ve heard on several occasions is that women’s sports aren’t as exciting as the men’s because women are slower and weaker. Men naturally have more muscle and less fat than women which gives them a pre-disposition to be faster and stronger. However, there is so much more to sport than just strength and speed such as teamwork, skill, tactics and resilience. In cycling, for example, the average speed tends to be a few kms/h higher for the men than the women. As a spectator this is not noticeable. What makes a bike race interesting is the team tactics, nature of the race and determination displayed by the riders. In my opinion, women’s bike races often overshadow the men’s in this respect. Women tend to race over shorter distances, which prompts aggressive racing from the gun and makes it more exciting to watch. In an ideal world women and men would race over the same distances, but that’s a topic for another day.
So is it true then that the general public is more interested in men’s sport than women’s? I think it’s a common misconception. In fact, there shouldn’t be a distinction between men’s and women’s sport because at the end of the day people want to see good sport, period. I’ve raced at elite level in the UK since 2013. Over the past four years the popularity of cycling has skyrocketed and this is particularly noticeable on the women’s side. When I first started racing you’d be happy to get a field of 30 to the start line. Whereas now hundreds of women are entering UK national series events which often end up being over-subscribed! When racing in town centres over the past few months the crowds have been incredible and I’ve been overwhelmed by all the support we’ve been given. There clearly is an interest in women’s sport when it is showcased and gets the exposure it deserves. The media shapes the public’s perception of the accomplishments of female athletes by displaying their strength, talent and confidence. It therefore serves a critical role in striving to get female athletes recognition and rewards on par with male athletes. Although there is still a long way to go in reaching equality my recent personal experiences of the general public’s interest in women’s cycling makes me feel hopeful about the future and gives me re-assurance that we are heading in the right direction!