Hayley Calls A Holt

I was interested to read about a tiff between TV journalists Hayley Holt and Scotty Stevenson. Their debate was reported on the Stuff news website. Here is the link.


Stevenson was delighted with the coverage of the New Zealand men’s netball team that played and beat the Silver Ferns. He could not resist having a moan about the poor coverage the men’s team got on other occasions. Holt’s response was best summarised, in her own words as, “Welcome to our world.”

I agree with Holt. It is beyond belief that a male journalist can sit there and argue that men are a disadvantaged sport’s news species. The history of broadcasting sport is hugely biased in favour of men. That’s not only true of history. It’s true of the present as well. The headlines promoted on Stuff sport today are two stories about the cricket World Cup, one story about Tom Walsh and a story about Sean Marks – all male, nothing about Venus Williams or a hugely talented 15 year old at Wimbledon. Why would they merit a mention when there is men’s sport, real sport, to talk about?

It is not so very long ago – in my lifetime – that the Chairman of Athletics New Zealand was reported in the Wellington Dominion newspaper as saying, “No woman should be selected for the Olympic Games if a good man was available.” Indeed welcome to Holt’s world.

Many of the best athletes I have coached have been women. Toni Jeffs won a bronze medal at what was then the World SC Championships, Nichola Chellingworth represented New Zealand at the Pan Pacific Games, Alison Wright ran for New Zealand and the United Kingdom, Jane Copland represented New Zealand at the Pan Pacific Games, was New Zealand national champion and open record holder and Rhi Jeffrey was an Olympic Gold Medallist. For a few years our club only had three swimmers – Toni, Nichola and Jane. We used to joke that only national champions were allowed to join.

What I learned most from the experience of coaching all those good women was the unbelievable difficulty women faced in sport. It was not fair or right when I began coaching and it certainly is not right now. Compared to men the path for women is strewn with troubles. Hayley Holt is right. TV coverage is biased in favour of men’s sport, monetary rewards are thousands of dollars less for women and acceptance of many good women is grudging and qualified.

But the worst aspect of all is the universal put downs practiced by men – the guys in the gym who condescendingly express their hushed concern that the weights lifted by girls in the gym might not be good for them “as women”. If I’ve heard that said once by the male “lycra-set”, I’ve heard it said a thousand times. The males in the pool who risk a heart attack to avoid a woman passing them. A male swimmer passing them is rewarded with, “You’re training well.” A female gets a sour look that clearly says, “Who does she think she is? Another one of those women’s lib sorts”. The construction workers who can’t see a women out running without screaming some sexist crudity. I know several women who have given up running in public in order to avoid a cacophony of wolf-whistles and offers of sexual services.

Make no mistake the difficulties faced by female athletes are a hundred times worse than men. That is a sportswoman’s reality. When I hear men like Stevenson moaning to a woman about the coverage of the men’s netball team I am embarrassed for my gender. The media balance remains embarrassingly tilted in favour of men. If anything we are still very much in an era where positive discrimination is necessary to redress the prejudice of the past. New Zealand has a proud history of paying reparations in an effort to make amends for racial sins of the past. In education, social welfare, criminal justice and health, efforts are being made to correct a biased and hurtfully racist past. We are not perfect but we are trying. Compared to the lot of black America, New Zealand’s reparation efforts are exemplary.

The same principle applies in women’s sport. There are reparations to be paid. Women merit compensation. Stevenson needs to walk in Hayley Holt’s shoes for a day. Instead of moaning about a men’s netball team not getting enough coverage his time would be better spent working on better coverage for all women’s sport. That is where the real problem lies.

Hayley Holt says, “Welcome to my world.” Sadly I don’t think Stevenson has a blind clue what she’s talking about.

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