Chaired by journalist and ex-England rugby international Sonya Thomas, the panel discussed how media and brands can foster the growth of women’s sport, how sport’s huge profile has the power to inspire change off the pitch and the role of news publishers and advertisers in confronting racist abuse
Joining Thomas on the panel were the Guardian’s women’s football writer Suzanne Wrack, The Telegraph’s women’s sports reporter Fiona Tomas, the Mirror’s chief football writer John Cross and James White, chief commercial officer at the Evening Standard.
Growing the profile of women’s sport
The panellists were unanimous in their agreement that journalism’s role in amplifying and nurturing the growth of women’s sport is particularly significant.
Fiona Tomas spoke about the importance of “championing” coverage into previously undiscussed subjects such as menstruation in sport and female concussion, while Wrack pointed to the “mutually beneficial relationship” between men’s sport and journalism that needs to be replicated in women’s sport to make a real impact.
The growth of women’s football in the lead up to and as a result of EURO 2022 makes an “interesting case study”, Tomas said, and Cross mentioned the progress already made in amplifying the profile of women’s football has “set the pathway” for how the game will be promoted in future.
However, Tomas added that the larger coverage and profile women’s football receives as a result demonstrates the measures that other sports and corresponding reporting teams have to implement to grow those sports in a similar way.
This power to inspire and change society is not limited to fostering women’s sport, however. Cross pointed out sport’s ability to deliver messages about subjects including politics, race and ethical considerations on and beyond the pitch, as well as giving the sportspeople themselves a voice to be able to speak on the issues they care about.
With sport creating conversations fans are more likely to be engaged in, this gives the public an opportunity to “tune in” to an issue in a way a general news story cannot replicate.
These conversations have included how to confront racist abuse in sport, particularly in the wake of the abuse received by male England players after EURO 2020. For Wrack, football does not exist in a bubble and racism in sport is a reflection of racism in society. She stressed the importance of football going beyond tackling the individual cases to using sport’s power to tackle issues at the ‘grassroots’ level.
Tomas raised the need to continue diversifying newsrooms to ensure that journalism was addressing the issue in an impactful way.
What can brands do?
White addressed the opportunities and responsibilities for brands in nurturing women’s sport and positive change in society more generally. Challenging brands to step up their support of women’s football following EURO 2022, he said: “Now’s the time to be thinking about what we can do to really get behind it.”
He pointed out the need for brands and the media industry to act more quickly to diversify newsrooms and agencies as well as challenging brands think more carefully about associating themselves with platforms that do not shut down racist abuse quickly enough.
Referring to the power of news brands more generally with the Qatar men’s football World Cup just around the corner, White concluded the session by emphasising their strengths for advertisers: journalism’s high engagement and contextual power, its “second-to-none” agility in getting messages across in a timely way across a portfolio of diverse media platforms, as well as the pride brands can take in aligning themselves with a “trusted, safe environment” for readers.