No room for women in Nine’s Olympic coverage?

14 Have your say

So you want to be a commentator or presenter for this year’s broadcast of the Games of the XXX Olympiad? Then you’ll need a few things if you hope to make it to London.

Working for the official broadcaster Channel Nine is a must, as is a track record as a seasoned commentator. But if you really want to improve your chances, you’ll be needing a penis.

That, at any rate, is the lesson I’ve learned from looking at Channel Nine’s presenting team.

The only woman fit enough to join the team is Leila McKinnon, wife of Channel Nine CEO David Gyngell. McKinnon will join Ken Sutcliffe, Cameron Williams, Karl Stefanovic, Eddie McGuire and Mark Nicholas as part of the official team.

While Nine will have a select few women commentators in London covering certain sports, these women only get a guernsey because they are deemed to be ‘experts’ in their respective sports. Their role will be more about being behind the microphone, providing analysis, rather than in front of the camera presenting one of the major global sporting events in the world.

Why this insistence on women who have expert knowledge? What special expertise do Karl Stefanovic or Eddie McGuire have when it comes to the Olympics? Sure Eddie knows AFL, but last time I checked, Australian Rules football wasn’t an Olympic sport.

Of course, Channel Nine doesn’t see anything wrong with this situation. Nine boss Gyngell claimed it was all about merit, saying the network was not ‘mired in blokey back-slappery’ and declaring there is ‘no glass ceiling’. This, from a station where the board is dominated by males. Me thinks the man protests a little too much.

Claiming the decision is based solely on merit is strange, especially since Australia is not short on highly qualified female journalists and presenters. For example, Alicia Loxley, Nine’s Olympics correspondent and reporter, has dominated the screens in Sydney and Melbourne and has proved to be a great success story.

ACA’s Tracy Grimshaw, Sydney sports reporter Roz Kelly and Georgie Gardner from Today would be equally at home with the Olympic broadcast duties.

In some respects, the absence of women from Nine’s Olympic coverage team isn’t surprising. It’s Australian as AFL. It wasn’t until 1982 when “Football’s First Lady” Caroline Wilson began covering sport, specialising in Australian Rules – almost a century after the league was founded.

Ever since, Wilson has been a trailblazer for women in the sports department. This is not just in football coverage, but for all major sports, with Jo Griggs fronting Summer of Tennis coverage and Liz Ellis the leader in Channel Ten’s broadcast of the trans-Tasman ANZ Championship.

Even, then, Wilson hasn’t had it easy, copping flak from the likes of Nine’s Sam Newman who infamously claimed ‘there is no place in sport for women’.

Melbourne journalist and former Melbourne Football Club deputy chairperson, Beverly O’Connor, argues “more women are needed in football to change the culture, but women over 35 were turning away from the game”. Too many are turning away, from not just male audience dominated sports, but too few are being considered worthy of presenting roles in major sporting events.

Perhaps the ‘lack of interest’ can be explained by constant recycling of male presenters fronting sports coverage each year, be it AFL, NRL, golf, cricket or the biggest sporting event in the world, the Olympic Games.

What’s the solution? One place to start is the ABC’s well received submission to the 2006 Senate Inquiry into Women in Sport and Recreation in Australia. The submission by the ABC outlined the need to re-establish ABC Television’s development role in sourcing and training women’s sports broadcasters through the establishment of a number of broadcasting cadetships.

Historically, the ABC has played a key role in the development and promotion of women as sports broadcasters. Broadcasters such as Karen Tighe, Simone Thurtell, Tracey Holmes and Debbie Spillane are evidence of the ABC’s commitment to place women in key on-screen roles..

It’s an example that Nine could learn from.

Fifty six years after Nine covered the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Nine’s decision to fill its commentary team with predominately men shows that those running the network are stuck in the 1950s.