Will 30 seconds ever be enough?

All it took for me to find my role-model was a hair clip. A girl with the same hair clip. The key to identification is hidden in the smallest details. But giving the possibility to identify is a hard struggle that should never be abandoned, but always taken into consideration.

Alice Chempf, March 8th 2021

I perfectly remember my first interaction with women’s sports. A handball quarterfinal between Romania and France in 2007, in an arena packed with loud French supporters, poorly broadcasted at my small suspended tv. I was clueless about the sport I was watching, about the rules, or about why I should miss my favorite cartoons to watch something I had absolutely no interest in. My lack of interest was visible, maybe not as visible as my mother’s enthusiasm who was screaming, encouraging, or being visibly nervous.

Because of my constant lamentation, my mother thought it would be a great idea to transform this game into a game with heroes. She asked me to pick a player from our team that would have to become my heroine for the next hour. I did not give it much thought, I did not know anyone anyway. I chose a girl with a ponytail and some bobby pins who had just entered the court. I chose her because she had the same hairpins as I did, and she was closer to my age than the others.

In a crowded room in Bucharest, I found my first female role model. This choice changed the way I perceived reality, justice, equality, and the role of women in sports.

And I became aware that women’s sports is not just a game with heroines, it’s one of the injustices our society failed to address.

The identification of one is the identification of many

I had no clue the girl I chose would become the best handball player in the world, all I cared about was that I could see myself in her.

The question of identification is probably one of the most important aspects of intersectional feminism. Being able to see women that look like you, that come from the same background or culture is fundamental in building self-confidence and power.

The lack of similarity is not only an obstacle to progress, but it is also an unrealistic portrayal of life and sports. We need female athletes to be as visible as male athletes, we need them to get the same coverage, the same wages, and the same visibility, not only because this is the right thing to do, but also because we owe it to the millions of girls who are watching.

It is our duty to build sports based on its core definition: fair play. Fair play will never be about the discrepancy, unfair publicity, about sexist questions. Fair play should be about respect, equal opportunities, and dignity.

Seeing women with exceptional performances, makes you believe that you will be able to become one of them one day, it makes you believe that there is always space for you and your success. Understanding struggle and victory, obstacles and defeat, and associating them with a person that looks like you is the key component in self-development.

Visibility and sexism

However, the question of representation will never stay on its own. Seeing someone that you can relate to is only the first part of the process, not the only one. If you are lucky enough to feel represented, you then start understanding that all the things you started valuing are subject to obsolete social norms, to a broken value system, to an inherently sexist structure. You start understanding that misogyny and inequality are part of the social order, and of course part of the domain you’ve pinned your representation to.

The female athletes you have admired your entire life, that you have considered the peak of performance and sacrifice are offered 30 seconds at the sports news section, in their good days. And 5, maybe 0 in their worse ones. Male athletes are always there, regardless of performances. In the United States, only  3.2 % of all sports media coverage is devoted to women, even though women count for 40 % of all sports participants.[1] This hinders visibility and representation, how can one feel represented by someone they can’t see? How can sponsors be approached when coverage is closer to 0?

There is a high interest in the bodies of female athletes. The sensational is searched in normality. Their personal life is always a question, usually the most asked one. One of the most asked questions female athletes get is about their love commitments or about when they are planning to have a family? Is parenting a question related to sports? If so, why is it only of interest for women? How many men athletes are asked when they plan to become fathers? You guessed it. None.

Wages? Not even a third of the ones of men. Same sacrifices, same effort. The most common argument: visibility. How could we increase visibility if nobody gets even close to trying? This whole vicious circle argument is never going to lead to true progress. The interest in a sport increases with visibility. When are 30 seconds going to be enough?

Afterword

We see you.

We see that only 11% of the coaching staff at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games consisted of women.[2] (IOC)

We see you now more than ever.

We want more and more people to see you, as much and often as possible.

We see that in the general coverage of sports journalism, only 8 % of articles are written by female sports journalists.[3]

We see that 88 % of media coverage is dedicated to male athletes.[4]

You are amazing, today, as you were yesterday.

All your fights will not remain unnoticed.

You are not and you will never be just your bodies, just your personal lives, or just the clothes you wear.

You are not the 30 seconds in the news.

You are the sum of your merits, your character, your ambition, and your limitless resistance.

Girls from all over the world are lucky to watch you and be inspired by your stories.

Nobody will ever tell you what big of a difference can a choice you made 13 years ago make.

Nobody has to tell you this. But we need to make sure that we do whatever is in our power for more and more girls to have the option of being inspired by someone who looks like them.

If not, we have all failed.

And it’s worth trying.

It will always be worth it.


[1] Cooky C, Messner MA, Musto M. “It’s Dude Time!”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows. Communication & Sport. 2015;3(3):261-287. doi:10.1177/2167479515588761

[2] Factsheet on Women in the Olympic Movement (Updated June 2020). Available at: https://stillmed.olympic.org/media/Document%20Library/OlympicOrg/Factsheets-Reference-Documents/Women-in-the-Olympic-Movement/Factsheet-Women-in-the-Olympic-Movement.pdf#_ga=2.235969153.1239053560.1597761599-1733941853.1597318970

[3] International Sports Press Survey 2011 Results and Outlook. Available at: https://www.playthegame.org/fileadmin/image/PtG2013/Presentations/30_October_Wednesday/Horky-Nieland_PTG_2013_11.30.pdf

[4] Ibid.

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