Do we forgive too easily for sexism in sport?

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The abuse suffered by Olympian Beth Tweddle during her Sky Sports Sportswomen Q & A rightly caused an outrage and once more shone light on the plight of women in general and sportswomen in particular. But with news of football pundit Andy Gray’s return to British TV after his and former Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys’ sexist remarks in 2011, are media personalities’ guilty of making sexist remarks too easily forgiven?

It appears that when it comes to issues of sexism and inequality, we tend to have short memories. Both presenters were sacked by Sky following the public outrage their remarks about assistant referee Sian Massey, prior to a Wolves vs. Liverpool Premier League match in 2011.

However, both were back on air a mere few months later working for talkSPORT radio. Meanwhile, Gray who has been off British Television since the incident is now back with BT Sports. The leaking of more tapes of him making sexist remarks, however, may have put his return in jeopardy.

Let’s not forget BBC presenter John Inverdale, who following the Ladies Wimbledon Singles Final between Marion Bartoli and Sabine Lisicki asked listeners on BBC Radio 5 Live:

“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little 'You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?”

The BBC received over 600 complaints following the remark.

No equality for women in sport

While it’s difficult to name and shame internet trolls like the ones that attacked Tweddle, (media personalities do not enjoy the same privilege) and we should do more than just condemn them when they spew sexist views that set back the years of work done to put women and men on an equal footing.

Gray and Keys were rightly let go by Sky but with BT willing to employ Gray and the BBC keeping Inverdale, this not only legitimises the views of these men but demonstrates how lightly such incidents are treated. All offenders seem to have to do is stay out of the limelight for a while and all is forgiven.

Gray, Keys and Inverdale may feel they have been made scapegoats in the sexism in sports debate but if you are a role model for millions of youngsters and air such remarks, you deserve the stigma and more.

As if women didn’t have it bad enough with the persistent gender gap, an Impact Report for 2011/12 by the Women’s Sport & Fitness Foundation found that women’s sport in the UK only received 0.5 per cent of UK sports sponsorship and 5 per cent of TV coverage. This shows massive inequality and doesn’t represent fairness in coverage of women’s sport. Such inequality is appalling.

Despite awareness being raised about such issues, the gap isn’t closing fast enough with many events still treating female and male athletes differently.

The Winter Olympics in Russia is a clear example; in events such as cross-country skiing and the luge, women have shorter distances than men. Also, women are allowed to drive two women bobsleds, but not four-woman ones while men can compete in both disciplines.

Reasons given for excluding women from competing in the same sports and at the same distances include concern for their safety and fear of damaging the uterus, despite no medical proof of this.

Even in tennis, one of the few sports where both men and women receive the same prize money and media coverage, the female athletes are unfortunately judged on their appearance, as opposed to their ability.

Increased debate around the issue and events such as the 2012 Olympic Games has increased awareness, but the abuse heaped on Beth Tweddle shows that more needs to be done and that people who reinforce such sexist views shouldn’t be let off so lightly.

What do you think should be done to address the issue of gender equality in sport? Have your say in the comments section below.

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A freelance Journalist & Copywriter.