Eleven questions and answers about a gender-equal sports coverage
Gender-equal sports coverage 

Eleven questions and answers about a gender-equal sports coverage

In tough competition, SVT Sport won the Swedish Equality Award 2020 in February for our work with a gender-equal sports coverage. The award is a great recognition and I am, of course, incredibly proud of the sports department that has forever changed sports journalism for the better.

You can read more below about what we do, how we work and what results we have achieved.

In February SVT Sport won the Swedish Equality Award and I was there to pick up the prize.

Why are you doing a gender-equal sports coverage?

We want to be relevant to everyone who enjoys sports, sports journalism and live sports on TV, and that is why an equal sports coverage is required. Gender equality is a societal foundation in Sweden; men and women should have the same rights, obligations and opportunities. We think this should be seen in our sports coverage as well.

How did it all start?

We set this objective in 2015. At that time, only 20–25 percent of our sports coverage was women’s sports, which felt unreasonable, both for us as a public service media company and for our sports audience.

The Winter studio (Vinterstudion) is the most popular sports program on Swedish TV. The program also has a gender-equal sports coverage.

How have you been working?

It has been important to constantly remind everyone of the 50-50 goal, a goal that applies to all aspects of what we produce and even how we reflect upon ourselves as a sports department. If we don’t remind ourselves of the objective, we can easily fall back into old habits.

Measuring the output is also central. Initially, we measured the number of men’s and women’s items on our sports news programs (Sportnytt and Sportspegeln, the most watched sports news in Sweden) as well as our posts on social media, but now we are much more advanced.

Today we measure how many seconds individual sports get in our news programs and we use a special ”gender metric” that reads our sports site in real time and gives us relevant information. We measure posts on social media, we measure the number of live broadcasts we do, we measure the number of men’s and women’s articles on the sports site and how the articles are visited, and we measure the composition of the editorial staff. Today we have 55 percent men and 45 percent women in the sports department, and we are at 50-50 when it comes to expert commentators. All figures are shared with the entire editorial staff, we analyze them together and then take appropriate steps to keep the course. We are also fully transparent with our figures to the public.

We want to present different perspectives to our viewers and therefore we have both men…
…and women working as anchors and expert commentators.

Can you give examples of actions taken?

Over the past few years, our journalists have had to acquire new networks to find more women’s news. We have negotiated new agreements with news agencies to gain access to more pictures, videos, news and results with women, we have bought new sports rights and started to produce new sports – to name a few.

We have also changed the way we talk in our broadcasts. For example, we now often say the men’s national team or the women’s national team in football. In the past we probably just said the national football team, and everyone assumed it was about men because men have always been the norm.

The interest in our work has grown and we therefore lecture a lot about our work with a gender-equal sports coverage.

What challenges have you encountered?

In our news coverage we want to show TV footage and video clips to our audience. When it comes to men’s sports almost everything is televised today, but live sports and footage with women’s sports have been limited. Also, we have not received any help from news agencies or other media, whose greatest focus is still on men’s sports. The women’s game schedules are also a challenge; they play fewer matches and often on weekends when competition is tough. Tradition, culture, poor networks and contacts have also been obstacles we have had to deal with along the way.

Why don’t more media companies do the same thing?

Sports and sports journalism have, since ancient times, been about men, for men, by men. Women’s sports were very limited for a long time. For example, the World Cup in women’s football was played for the first time in 1991, 61 years after the men’s first World Cup. Sports have long been a men’s territory, and changing old traditions and cultures is difficult and requires courage.

After the FIFA World Cup in 2019 the interest in women’s football has grown rapidly. Here are some pictures from a conference at the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) where that topic, and others, were discussed.

I can understand that SVT is doing this – you are, after all, public service. But it’s hard for commercial media to focus on women’s sports, right?

I have to answer that with a counter-question: how can you say that something does not work when you haven’t tried it? Anyone who wants to win must dare and also have a little patience. But the fact is that several commercial broadcasters are now picking up women’s team sports. I think that has a lot do to with the success of the 2019 World Cup in France – a championship where many broadcasters around the world set new viewing records for women’s football. For example, NENT (a Nordic TV company) has started broadcasting international women’s football, and C More (a Swedish TV company) is broadcasting 192 games from the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) this season (SVT broadcasts the top match of the week from the SDHL and the championship series).

What objections have you encountered over the years?

In fact, very few. I meet far more grateful people than I meet critics, and I have never met anyone who has criticized us for an equal coverage of individual sports such as athletics, swimming, cross-country skiing or biathlon.

Those who ask questions often wonder why we broadcast team sports with women when several of these sports have few spectators in the stands compared to male team sports. And that is a relevant question, but the number of spectators in the stand is just one parameter we have when choosing what to cover in our sports news or broadcast as live sports.

But what parameters do you have when choosing what to monitor or transmit?

When choosing live broadcasts, we often use our “blue-yellow” strategy, which means that we want to broadcast when Swedish teams or athletes compete for medals in international contexts.

In our news coverage we evaluate the interest of a sport in Sweden, how great the sport is in an international perspective, how the national team performs, if the sport has superstars, if there is a special news interest to the current match or competition, the availability of sports on the current day, and also our ambition with an equal sports coverage.

Also, I think you should know that the number of spectators in the stands does not reflect the number of viewers on television.

Caroline Seger of Sweden celebrates winning the bronze after the FIFA Women’s World Cup bronze medal game between England and Sweden. Photo: Petter Arvidson / Bildbyrån

What does the audience think of your sports coverage now?

We have received a great response from the audience. They like our new sports coverage with more perspectives and voices than ever before, making us relevant to all. The number of unique visitors to our sports site has increased by over 100 percent since we started our work with a gender-equal sports coverage. We broadcast more sports than ever before, reaching a wider audience. We have more news than ever and we are quoted by other media daily. We have more stories to tell, we make better programs with more perspectives and anchors and expert commentators who reflect the whole audience. We have also won many awards for our sports coverage, which is a great recognition, and we are the leader in the world when it comes to a gender-balanced sports coverage.   

What does the future look like?

I believe that sports coverage will change rapidly in the coming years. The sports audience and the athletes will demand this, and the market will realize that there is money to be made in women’s sports – an unexploited, potential gold mine.

We also notice that many media companies, both in Sweden and internationally, are curious and want to know more about our work with an equal sports coverage, and we often get invitations to come and lecture.

More and more federations and clubs also realize that they cannot meet the future standing on one leg. That is why we see new investments in women’s teams both in Sweden and internationally – look, for instance, at how the interest in women’s football leagues in Europe is growing.

It is wise to learn from history when you look into the future. From history we learn that the sports and clubs that invested early in both men and women are among the most successful today. I hope and believe that this will apply to journalism as well.

Thanks for reading and sharing this blog post!

Åsa Edlund Jönsson, Head of Sports, SVT

Left: Johanna Ojala, the first woman to win the Swedish TV award ”Kristallen” as the best sports presenter. Centre: Ann-Britt Ryd Pettersson, the first woman to anchor the sports news at SVT. Right: Me, the first woman to be Head of Sports at SVT.

Some facts, from 2019, about the gender-equal sports coverage at SVT:

Number of experts: 11 men and 11 women.

Number of championships broadcast on TV: 16 neutral (both men and women), six men’s and three women’s.

Sportnytt (the most watched sports news program in Sweden): 41.7 % women (best so far), 2.4 % neutral och 55.9 % men.

Sports: Five out of ten of our most covered sports in the news programs were about women.

Digital news service (svtsport.se):  25 of the 50 most read articles were about women’s sports.

Social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter): 52 percent women’s sports.