Courtesy of OFC Competitions Media Officer Jamie Wall 

Women’s football tournaments run by the Oceania Football Confederation represents not only a way to showcase the abilities of our Member Association national teams, but also for the media to play our part in shaping the narrative around women’s football in our region.

Our aim should be to create an environment where women’s sports and women’s sports coverage are equally valued – because there is a need to challenge the sometimes blatantly sexist, sometimes ignorantly biased culture that persists in sports media.

If we don’t commit to consistent coverage of women’s football, then we perpetuate the biased, inaccurate belief that fans don’t care about it. You can’t build a following for women’s sports when fans don’t know when or where they’ll find games or features or in-depth analysis. So, it’s up to us to change that.

It’s about creating conversations

It’s no secret that women’s and men’s sports are different. The complicated part is how to give them the same amount of critical airtime while still celebrating the unique aspects of women’s sports. The key is knowledge.

That way we can understand its complexities, offer legitimate criticism, and tell great stories. The more statistics available, the more knowledgeable media become. That way, the fans become more engaged. In women’s sports, statistics that go beyond the basics can be hard to find, but better-quality coverage would look a lot like the coverage male athletes get. That means not only a focus on the athleticism and accomplishments of female athletes, but also a willingness to dive into the complicated, conversation-worthy narratives in women’s sports.

This, admittedly, is a bit of a chicken and egg situation because often those rich statistics and history aren’t readily available. But with the right amount of research, we can convey the importance of events like the WNC.

Key issues

One of the main challenges for female athletes is equal pay, but often that only tells part of the story. Marketing and promotion are drivers of this, which in turn lead to interest from the public – with the media being the most important part of that drive. This, in turn,  builds a passionate, loyal following, as well as more content for media outlets.

There are a lot of mysteries and misconceptions around women’s sport, which the media needs to hep dispel. Having women in brainstorming and decision-making positions makes an undeniable difference when it comes to finding and prioritising more diverse and more inclusive narratives. Male allies need to raise their voices, too, by championing great stories about female athletes.  However, these stories don’t always need to be about family commitments, pregnancy or overcoming societal attitudes in order to play (although those are all good topics).

Things to think about

Start by framing ideas and asking questions in ways that aren’t gender-driven. If you focus on gender first, then you’re not truly committed to telling great stories. If you take a checklist approach to stories about female athletes, then it will likely lead down a path cluttered with women’s sports narratives that always feel the same. The goal is to have a media landscape that makes little or no distinction between what happens on the field when talking about men’s and women’s football, but keeps the unique attributes of the women’s game front of mind.

It is worth remembering that most objective data is based on research carried out on the men’s game. Consequently, most of the scientific recommendations for the women’s game are not always appropriate or ideal.

Language is important. The use of the word ‘girls’ is a bit tricky, because players and coaches often use it to describe themselves and should be quoted as such. However, it should be avoided if being used in an official sense – like in a match report etc. There is a feeling that ‘girls’ infantilises female athletes and is demeaning, however the best way to approach this is to only use it when the players themselves say it. Also, some of the players are young enough to be correctly described as ‘girls’ anyway, so asking the player if it is OK to address them as such is a good rule.

Physical attributes are another area where we need to be careful. Men’s and women’s physicality is not talked about the same way in regular conversation, so exercise good judgement in a sporting context.

There is a pretty good solution if you are in doubt! Find someone to run it by first, whether that’s a colleague or member of the team or organisation you are reporting on. It’s not to censor your opinions, just simply that if you are having to think twice about something, it pays to get it right.