How is lockdown impacting women’s sport in the news? We revisited our #SeeSportyBeSporty newspaper statistics a month into lockdown

April 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s official Covid-19 lockdown in a televised address to the nation at 8pm on Monday 23rd March 2020. From then on, by virtue of the social distancing rules, there has been no sport played (at least officially) anywhere in the UK. The rules affect both men’s and women’s sport equally, in terms of what can and cannot be done. Pitches, courts and tracks are lying idle. Athlete preparations for a Summer Olympics have been postponed, suffering the same fate as competitions worldwide in sports from Diving to Darts.

How is this affecting the stories and photographs we are seeing in UK newspapers? Is there a Gender Sport Gap?

In 2018 we reported our statistics from a year of counting photos in 9 UK national newspapers. Between July 2017 and June 2018, looking at one day each month, we found 3107 photographs of someone playing sport. Less than 3% of those photographs showed women. With a combined total circulation of some 5 million copies daily, from 0.8% of sport photos in The Sun to 10% of sport photos in the Guardian, we were 33 times more likely to see a photograph of a man playing sport than a woman. The Daily Telegraph had the most pictures of women playing sport in any one edition; 7 of a total of 48. On the worst day, 365 photographs of men sat next to only 1 of a woman. Almost two thirds of the editions we looked at had no photograph of a woman playing sport, those each having an average of 30 photographs of men.

A month into Coronavirus lockdown, the picture has changed slightly, but not by much. On 23rd April 2020 there were a total of 102 photographs of someone playing sport in national newspaper sports sections. 96 (94.1%) of those were of men, and 6 (5.9%) were of women. 5 of the 9 newspapers had no photograph of a woman playing sport. The Daily Express had the best ratio; 3 photographs of a total of 13. Compared to our previous statistics, and understandably given the lockdown, there were significantly less photographs of anyone playing sport. In our year-long research, each day averaged 259 photographs, compared to only 102 on 23rd April 2020. To look deeper at what was going on, we also looked at the news stories being reported, and split those by gender; men’s sport, women’s sport, or both.

Across all 9 newspapers there were 216 sport stories; impressive considering the complete lack of sporting action on which to report. 90.7% of stories were about men’s sport, with 5.1% about women’s sport. 4.2% were about both men’s and women’s sport. All 9 stories about both men’s and women’s sport related to 2 actual sport stories; Roger Federer’s tweet on 22nd April that men’s and women’s tennis bodies should combine, and the postponed Olympics. 7 of the 11 stories about women’s sport were the same story; Phil Neville indicating that he would not continue as England football manager once his contract expired. 3 were about women’s football, including speculation as to the next England Manager. 1 was an “on this day” fact about Taekwondo World Champion Sarah Stevenson having retired 7 years earlier.

The above statistics show an improved picture from our pre-lockdown research, but still a worrying lack of women’s sport, even where there is an equal amount of professional sport going on.

We did, however, have a significant boost to our statistics, in the form of The Telegraph’s monthly Women’s Sport Supplement. Released monthly, this award-winning supplement is edited by Anna Kessel and with contributors including World Champion sprinter Dina Asher-Smith and England football vice-captain Jordan Nobbs.

Including the monthly Women’s Sport Supplement, the Telegraph’s 36 sport stories were 52.8% men’s sport, 41.7% women’s sport and 5.6% both men’s and women’s sport, with 45% of its 20 photographs of someone playing sport showing women. Including the supplement in our overall totals takes women’s photographs to 13.5%, and stories to 10.5% of the totals.

What the Telegraph’s supplement shows is that there are quality and inspirational stories about sportswomen waiting to be told. Those of ultra-marathon runner Hillary Allen returning to the sport she loves after a 150ft fall, Radio presenter and vicar Kate Bottley sharing her relationship with sport and love for open-water swimming, and Ballon D’Or winner Ada Hegerberg on protecting the women’s game and standing up for equality.

Totally Runable co-founder Natalie Jackson spoke to Author and Sports Writer Carrie Dunn about the Telegraph’s women’s sport supplement in our first ever SeeSportyBeSporty Podcast this week. She called it “excellent”, and “fantastic journalism”. Her concern, however, was that women’s sport stories were not forming part of the sport section, and were appearing more exclusively in a separate supplement. Hear her comments, and the rest of the podcast here or watch the video here.

With no current sport going on, the lockdown could be an excellent opportunity for newspapers to look to the subs bench and give women’s sport stories the pitch-time they deserve. The Telegraph’s women’s sport supplement illustrates how many inspiring, informative and interesting stories have been waiting on the sidelines. If these stories are told, by the time female athletes are able to once again grace the field of play, they may well find that playing field just a little more level.

#SeeSportyBeSporty is Totally Runable’s campaign to close the Gender Sport Gap. Our Kickstarter project aims to raise £6,000 by 10th May to fund 2500 poster packs of girls doing the sports they love, which will be sent to UK primary schools. For more information, and to back the project, go to;

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/totallyrunable/seesportybesporty-role-models-posters-of-girls/.