Black Caviar – one of our best sportswomen? I don’t think so…

| April 22, 2013

After fans have given a fond and very public farewell to Black Caviar, the Australian record-braking mare that went undefeated in 25 races, Kate Galloway wishes we would give regular women’s sport the same media coverage.

The retirement of racehorse Black Caviar last week dominated news headlines and even prompted a mention from Australia’s Prime Minister, who said that we would be unlikely to see something like her again in our lifetime.

While I recognise that Australians love their sport and that horse racing in particular is a cherished pastime – indeed an ‘industry’ – I confess to being somewhat nonplussed about the elevation of this beautiful creature to such an all-star status.

The horse is obviously magnificent. She is sleek and beautifully toned. She is the embodiment of spirit and athleticism, competitiveness and commitment. She had 25 starts, and won each time. Her statistics speak for themselves and I’m sure there are many punters who won at the track backing Black Caviar. Certainly if I were a horse, I would aspire to be like Black Caviar. If I were to have conversations about horses that can run fast, Black Caviar would probably feature.

However were I to dream of being an athlete, her horse-like features would not dominate my deliberations. I would instead draw on the inspiring and diverse range of women athletes – female humans. Indeed what leaves Black Caviar in somewhat of a shadow as an ‘athlete’ is that we have anthropomorphised her: we have somehow turned her from a horse that looks lovely and wins horseraces, into a sportswoman.

In an apparent attempt at humour in late 2012, sports columnists Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland cited Black Caviar as ‘sportswoman of the year’. Some barely blinked, believing either that this is funny, or that there are better things to worry about. Others, me included, were disappointed at the lack of insight into what this ‘award’ (joking or not) represented in terms of actual sportswomen.

While government statistics reveal that media representations of women in sport are increasing and also increasingly realistic, the reality is that there remains a significant imbalance in media and cultural representations of sportswomen. We face a challenge in engaging girls and young women in sport as part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, and the relative invisibility of sportswomen in our media is arguably part of the problem. More consistent coverage of women in sport – both team and individual – would help to normalise this part of life. Instead, on our free to air screens, we face a barrage of (men’s) football – four codes, no less – and (men’s) cricket.

I realise that corporate sponsorship seems to be an issue in bringing regular women’s sports coverage. I realise that the argument is that ‘no one watches women’s sport’ and that is why there is so little major corporate sponsorship. I see no reason why a media outlet could not show leadership in starting the path to bringing women’s sport to the level of public recognition as men’s sport.

In spite of poor coverage by media, there are of course many, many elite women athletes in a wide range of sports. Some have a public profile – particularly following success in events such as the London Olympics – and others enjoy recognition amongst a more specialist group of their particular sport. These sportswomen should be as mainstream as their male counterparts, based on their singular achievements – and also, inevitably, as they fail.

Until we start to see these women regularly in our media and in our headlines, in the same way we see representation of elite men athletes, there is no justification to intermix an animal and a human endeavor. As for Black Caviar: racehorse of the year? Certainly. Of the century? Perhaps. But sportswoman of the year? I don’t think so.