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Sport and women's sport: addressing sports ground invisibility

By Jocelynne Scutt - posted Monday, 24 September 2012

In opening the London Olympic Games in his role chairing the 2012 Olympic Games Organising Committee (OGOC), sometime sports star Sebastian Coe spoke of 'mankind' and his 'countrymen'. As a man amongst men, there being one woman only (Anne Windsor) amongst 'the sports boys' on the 2012 OGOC, perhaps his language was apt – or might be considered so.

Yet some were attuned to its infelicity. Raymond Lloyd, redoubtable supporter of equality amongst and between women and men, editor and publisher of The Parity Democratic, took issue, observing that Coe employed the same non-inclusive language in his opening of the Paralympics.

Nevertheless, Coe's words may be unremarkable to others. Amongst various lessons-in-bombast, he said:


'The Olympics brings together the people of the world in harmony and friendship and peace to celebrate what is best about mankind … To the athletes, gathered here on the eve of this great endeavour, I say that to you is given something precious and irreplaceable. To run faster, to jump higher, to be stronger. To my fellow countrymen, I say thank you, thank you for making all this possible …'

So it is that all of us people are to celebrate not what is best about humankind (at least in sports physiology and physicality), but about mankind alone.

Still, despite this lack of generic affirmation of sports prowess, the athletes are affirmed by this one encompassing term. Yet Coe's countrywomen are not to be thanked nor recognised for their existence and substantial contribution not only to the holding of the Olympics in London – think of myriad cleaning staff and volunteers, along with women bus, tube, train and taxi drivers, station staff, stadium ticket checkers and collectors … but to securing the Olympics for London.

Tessa Jowell, Labour's (then) Minister, was substantially responsible for securing the Games and bringing planning and organisation to fruition. (Let's hope she was not responsible for the egregious appointment-process resulting in the OGOC's comprising eighteen men and one woman, albeit Wikipedia asserts Jowell and her Tory counterpart Jeremy Hunt were members – though not according to the official site!)

History indicates Jowell initiated London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics, 'coming up with the idea [in 2002] during her time as Culture Secretary … when there was said to be very little [Cabinet] support …', for 'many [were] thinking Paris would win'. Jowell launched the London bid in 2004. When successful, she became Olympics Minister, retaining the shadow post after British Labour lost government in 2010.

Women's admission to Olympic Games fields, pools, venues and arenas in sporting roles see them performing well, often taking home swags of medals. For Australia, this follows consistently. Yet news coverage does not necessarily reflect women's Olympic-stage performance and, where it does, concerns arise as to whether this coverage will continue for women's sport post-Olympics.


In the United Kingdom, newly appointed Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has written to broadcasters 'ordering them to stop burying coverage of women's football, rugby, cricket and tennis in their schedules … [and] want[ing] television channels to carry on the mainstream coverage the BBC gave to women in the Olympics when 16 million people tuned in to watch Jessica Ennis take gold in the heptathlon'.

In her letter of 16 September 2012, Miller expresses as 'one of her biggest worries' the fear that albeit British media did 'a simply fantastic job' of 'championing' British female athletes at the London Games, a return to male football 'dominance' would show a failure to 'capitalise' on the 'public appetite' growing over the summer 'for watching women's sport':

'… outside the Olympics and Paralympics, women's sport has been woefully under-represented on television [with] sports where women compete … end[ing] up buried pretty deep within the TV schedules, if shown at all … [T]he names of our female Olympic and Paralympic stars will fade into the background.'

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About the Author

Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is a Barrister and Human Rights Lawyer in Mellbourne and Sydney. Her web site is here. She is also chair of Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom and Dignity.

She is also Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jocelynne Scutt

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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