Monday, March 23, 2009

How Not To Be A Minister

Today's Independent carries on the cover a picture of England's Women's Cricket team who have just won the world cup. Now I am in general not a fan of over-sponsored, over-hyped professional sports. But then again the women on this team are not full-time professional sportspeople - they're students, shop workers, management consultants and charity workers. And that's largely because the government continues to allow sports funding from tax-free corporate sponsorship to be allocated more or less exclusively to men's sport.

Below the one-page feature on page 11 which explains who the team members are (one sentence each around a photograph) is a piece by Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Andy Burnham in which he argues that women's sport deserves more coverage and that young women would be encouraged to participate in sport if they saw more role models in the media. He doesn't seem to have twigged that young women would also be encouraged to participate in sport if there was decent funding for it! And I should know - I pretty much gave up paying women's football a few years back because the lack of facilities and the lack of funding for the league meant there was a shortage of teams and far too many players at each one for most players to be getting a regular game. So I was splashing out a lot of money to train at inconvenient times in the middle of nowhere knowing I still wouldn't get a game at the end of it.

However despite being the one and only person in government with a direct remit to do so Burnham doesn't commit at any point in his piece to actually doing anything about the status of women's sport. Instead he suggests it is predominantly up to the media to sort it out. What is the point of being in government if you can see what the problem is but respond by leaving it up to the media to sort it out? Why not just vote Rupert Murdoch into power and be done with it?

And the media Burnham is urging into action? Well, while the main section of the Independent front-pages the victory and bewails the poor coverage elsewhere, no-one appears to have bothered to mention this to the rest of the paper...

The sports section has a front cover about men's football, with sidebars about men's rugby, men's cricket and men's motor racing. The world cup win for the women is on page 14 and consists of a single brief match report at the bottom of the page filling around a sixth of the total page area and squashed beside and below articles about men's cricket matches. There are no other articles in the 20-page supplement about women's sports.

The Independent website has more than 100 links on it's main page of which only one relates to the win. Demonstrating their deep belief in Burnham's claim that it is up to the media to encourage young women to participate in sport, they have put this one link in the scrolling, not-always visible "Editor's Choice" bar next to such heavyweight pieces as "The Ten Best Luxury Face Creams" and "Floral Patterns Are Back In Season"! Burnham's own piece is not linked from the front page...

Seriously Mr Burnham you are one of the few people in the country who can change things if you want to. But not by writing articles which even the paper you publish them in goes on to ignore. If you mean a word of what you say - get your finger out and pass a law on the subject. Because that's the point of your job...

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