The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Sexism in sport never seems to go away

Posted by Nic Heath on January 26, 2011

Sexism in sport never seems to go away.

Three members of the Sky Sports football commentary team in the UK have been taken off air for a variety of actions deemed unacceptable by management – perhaps a saving grace in the story.

Andy Gray, “the face of Sky Sports’ football coverage for the past two decades”, has been fired for offensive behaviour directed at colleague Charlotte Jackson (a harsher penalty than that given to our very own Sam Newman in a similar incident).

Gray’s colleague Richard Keys “had been reprimanded and removed from duty on Monday for making derogatory comments about lineswoman Sian Massey, former referee Wendy Toms and West Ham executive Karren Brady”, while another member of the Sky Sports football team, Andy Burton, was taken off air on Tuesday for his comments about a female official.

Closer to home, this week Network Ten ended the ‘two-year experiment’ that saw Kelli Underwood commentate top-level AFL for television. Underwood was the first woman to call football on Australian television.

Underwood has not been completely cut away. She will commentate netball and the AFL boundary-line for Ten and football for ABC. To Underwood’s credit, she has put on a brave face, telling “I was the first to do it but hope I am not the last. I would say to every girl out there you should go for it.”

That said she has faced an uphill battle trying to be accepted as a football commentator, polling as ‘most annoying commentator’ in the Herald Sun Footy Fans survey last year.

It is dispiriting that schoolyard notions of women in sport – like whether we can understand the offside rule, or call a match – still have currency in certain circles.

Lately women have been making short work of the glass ceiling, particularly in politics. Only last week Lara Giddings became Tasmania’s first female premier. A look at Crikey’s Friday editorial – a series of sexist headlines pertaining to stories about female politicians – shows all is not quite as it should be, yet*. But with most of the top positions of power in eastern seaboard filled by women at present, a sense of hope seems warranted.

In Australia and overseas, sport offers a less positive outlook.

*For more on the topic read Amber Jamieson’s interviews with Cheryl Kernot, Natasha Stott-Despoja and Fran Bailey at Crikey.

One Response to “Sexism in sport never seems to go away”

  1. blogster said

    Hmm. Having played Australian Rules football for a long time and followed the game my whole life I find this one of particular interest (although being overseas for a while, have not followed this case too closely).

    Some statements I would make regarding this. Do you know the fundamental, underlying reason why her two year trial was not continued? You make no mention of any specific reason, but strongly imply it was just because she’s female.

    Secondly, like any other business, TV stations are commercial entities whose first priority is the bottom line (i.e. ratings). I do not know the deliberations TV stations go through to assess their line ups, but surely it is possible, they will consider which commentators combine to deliver the best overall TV performance? For example, if they considered her performance, or popularity with viewers and if she is not considered one of the best ‘performing’ commentators then likely any other commercial decision, they might look elsewhere.

    With regard to the “most annoying” poll, she is not the only commentator ever mentioned – for example, a great percentage of AFL fans find Robert Walls highly annoying. And specifically, just because she was voted most annoying, does not necessarily mean it was because she is female – can you directly quote any source which shows this to be the case?

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