Yorkshire Olympian Emily Freeman launches campaign after research reveals gender gap in sports photos - and here’s how you can get involved

Olympian Emily Freeman and Natalie Jackson, who founded Totally Runable.
Olympian Emily Freeman and Natalie Jackson, who founded Totally Runable.

A campaign led by Yorkshire Olympic sprinter Emily Freeman is being launched to press for more gender equal sports coverage in the media. Laura Drysdale reports.

When Olympic sprinter Emily Freeman began looking at the gender split of sports photographs in national newspapers last year, she expected to find a difference.

Quite how stark that was though has come as a shock to the former 200m UK champion whose company is now launching a campaign for more gender equal sports coverage in the media.

We are 33 times more likely to see photos of a man playing sport in the papers than a woman, research by her Barnsley-based training company published today has revealed.

For the course of a year, one day every month, Totally Runable, which she founded with ex-lawyer turned runner Natalie Jackson in 2015, recorded pictures in the UK’s top national daily newspapers.

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Based on the sample, 17 per cent of newspaper photos are of someone playing sport, the research has found - but, of these, less than three percent are of women.

And in one month, last September, there was just one image of a woman playing sport across the papers looked at, compared to 365 of men. “I think we were quite shocked with the findings,” Huddersfield-born Emily says. “I think we thought it was different but didn’t think quite how different.”

As well as a contrast in the number of images, the research found some difference in the type of photographs used with more action shots of men.

“We had the best and the worst paper but the best wasn’t great either,” Emily explains.

“And even around times where a lot of women’s sport was being shown on television there was still very different pictures and different amounts of pictures in the papers as well. It is not that women’s sport isn’t happening, it is just that it isn’t being reported on in the same way.”

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The findings have inspired the #SeeSportyBeSporty campaign, launching today by Totally Runable, and running throughout October.

Calling for sport in the media to be more gender equal, the company’s campaign, as its name suggests, is grounded in the thinking that if women and girls cannot see female role models in sport, it is harder for them to participate in sport themselves.

“By age seven, girls are 22 per cent less likely to call themselves ‘very sporty’ than boys, although they will call themselves ‘quite sporty’, so it’s not something they aren’t interested in,” explains Emily, who first began running at Spenborough athletics club at the age of 10 and later became a member of Wakefield District Harriers.

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“It’s a matter of confidence. Without seeing women being sporty there is a very strong message being sent to girls, and other women for that matter, that being sporty isn’t a ‘girly’ thing to do. What damage might that be doing to girls and their expectations for themselves?”

When Emily and Natalie formed Totally Runable, they originally set out to help women who wanted to run to believe in themselves and get started. But within months, they began working in schools using running to build girls’ and female staff’s confidence in sport and exercise.

The idea that ‘you can do anything’ is at the heart of their ethos, so the lack of images of sportswomen was “quite worrying”, Emily says.

Whilst a petition has been set up to lobby for change, it is also hoped the campaign will make waves on social media. People are being asked to show their support by sharing the petition link, and photos of themselves with the campaign name, using the hashtag.

Steps are being taken, Emily claims, but she wants to see that change accelerated. It is everybody’s responsibility to make sure everyone is equal, she believes. That includes the media.

To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/seesportybesporty