Edge Hill supports European campaign against sexual violence

The Council of Europe is currently running a major campaign called “One in Five” in relation to sexual violence against children. In an associated project Sport Studies staff Mike Hartill and Mel Lang were recently involved in an international collaboration to raise awareness about sexual violence in sport within Europe. The 12 month project culminated with a conference in Berlin for sports policy-makers during which a catalogue of international good practice was launched.

Over the next two years Edge Hill will be leading the UK element of a follow-on project (Youth Sports Stands-Up for Youth Rights) which will establish youth-led national campaigns within sport to raise awareness of sexual violence against young people. This project will also seek to establish a sustainable network of interested partners. For further info contact Mike Hartill on 01695 584763/4212 or hartillm@edgehill.ac.uk

 

International Donor Perspectives on Sustainability in African Sport-for-Development

Please click here for a video presentation of findings from a Leverhulme Trust funded research project: ‘Sustainable Development in African Sport’. The findings are from interviews with a variety of International Donors that support sport-for-development work in Ghana and Tanzania. These interviews are just one part of a wider research project. For more information on the research project and to be added to the mailing list for the project’s newsletter, please email leverhulmesport@edgehill.ac.uk

Ethically Challenged? Researching Sport and Development in the Global South

I am a white, middle-class, (scarily close to) middle-aged man from a country amongst the richest in the world. Perhaps this sounds more like an opening to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting than would be expected for a blog such as this. Nevertheless, it is precisely these characteristics that appear to significantly shape my involvement as both a researcher and, something of, a practitioner concerned with the use of sport to contribute to development outcomes in countries in Africa. In particular, these characteristics lie at the heart of the ethical challenges faced in this type of work.

The literature on sport-for-development in the Global South and international development more generally highlight a number of issues that have an ethical dimension. One dominant theme in this literature is the power imbalances in a field in which organisations in the Global North provide funding and guidance for programmes that are delivered by ‘partner’ organisations in the Global South. Furthermore, it is possible to identify a number dimensions within the research field that contribute to these same power imbalances. First, it is notable that the vast majority of published research on sport-for-development is by authors from the Global North in journals that may be too expensive for those from the Global South to access. This is in part a consequence of the greater research funding that is available in the Global North but also a result of broader, institutionalised exclusion within various academic systems. Most importantly, research has mainly focused on sport-for-development as perceived by those from the Global North and holistic research which gives primacy to voices from the Global South has been rare.

Certainly, I have encountered many ethical issues whilst undertaking research in, and with individuals and organisations from, the Global South that, at times, have led me to feel seriously conflicted. Space precludes a full explanation and examination of these issues but it is useful to identify some of them. Some have been related to my attempts to ensure that Southern voices are heard in my research which has presented challenges in assessing the ‘truthfulness’ of statements made in interviews as well as ensuring interpretation and representation of statements stays faithful to the interviewees’ meaning when the nuances of even English language may be different. As someone from the ‘richer’ Global North, interviewees have also made many eminently reasonable requests for support from me. Balancing a desire to contribute in some way to in-country development against the impossibility of meeting all of requests for support, of not encouraging dependency and of maintaining the neutrality that is often expected of a researcher has frequently been challenging. Working with African colleagues in undertaking research has also been a means to addressing some of the issues identified earlier although often staying true to these developmental means whilst also ensuring the achievement of agreed research ends has been a difficult balance to maintain. Above all of these issues remains the question that is fundamental to me of how the research I have been involved in could be utilised to contribute to development.

The normal starting point to consider the types of ethical issue identified above would be research ethics procedures as they exist within our Universities. However, in my view, these procedures are insufficient for the task at hand for a number of reasons. Perhaps the key principle underpinning research ethics procedures is that of non-malfeasance or, in layman’s terms, ‘do no harm’. Whilst important, this does not provide any guidance in terms of how best research may contribute to positive change and on what basis, and on whose terms, research might be adjudged to have contributed to positive change. Second, those academics on research ethics committees rarely have specific expertise regarding development issues or undertaking research in the Global South and, as such, face inevitable difficulties identifying and advising on ethical issues particular to this field. A linked third concern arises from the a priori assessment of research ethics which means that formal consideration cannot be given to many of the issues that arise from the uncertainties experienced while working in the field in the Global South. Fourthly, research ethics procedures tend to focus largely on issues of data collection rather than processes of research initiation, planning, analysis and dissemination to which which ethical issues of power are equally relevant. More fundamentally, the relativist argument questioning whether Northern conceptions of ethics should be applied to research undertaken in the Global South is worthy, at least, of consideration.

But it cannot be that, if research ethics procedures as they stand are insufficient, decisions regarding the ethical undertaking of research (and the difference of terminology is deliberate) in fields such these be left to the judgement of individual researchers. To me, potential ways forward may lie in virtue ethics as an alternative to the deontological or rule-based approach that underpins current research ethics procedures. Further consideration is definitely required of the potential, conceptualisation and practicalities of a virtue ethics approach. Nevertheless, there is potential in building communities of researchers, across the Global North and South, from which examples of excellence in undertaking research in the field can be identified, discussed, promoted and strived for. A virtue ethics approach may also hold the promise of balancing considerations of means and ends that have been identified earlier. Whether such an approach can also balance issues of universality and relativism remains one of many unanswered questions.

Dr Iain Lindsey
Senior Lecturer in Sports Development

A New Pedagogy in RFU

A NEW PEDAGOGY IN RFU

Recent research into coach education has reported that there has been an increase in the provision of formal, coach education programmes and also in the level of importance that is attached to them.  This may well be due to national governing bodies of sport (NGBs) attempting to structure and disseminate best practice and current developments in coaching but this approach has been met with much criticism of late.  That isn’t to say that these types of coach education programmes are not valued by coaches, they simply only account for a limited amount of impact in the lifelong learning journey that coaches will be exposed to.

 

Formal coach education can be considered that which is organised by the NGB, is curriculum-driven, and where learning is assessed and recognised by grades or certification].  However, various reasons for criticising this approach have been given, but principally, it is the fact that these courses continue to be taught along traditional, didactic lines and are divorced from the knotty reality of practice.  The inability to successfully capture the situational variability within which coaches operate is also seen as a reason why formal, coach education courses are believed to lack the ability to shape coaches’ future practice and or philosophies.  Some researchers suggest that, from their observations of the scientific evidence purported in the literature, coach education has little or no long-term significant effect on actual coaching practice.

 

One of the issues raised in the literature is the lack of consideration given to the perspective of the individual learner when designing, delivering and evaluating coach education programmes as learning is seen as a social process, involving the whole person in a wide range of contexts.  As such, there has been a demand in the literature for a closer scrutiny of coaches’ engagement with their real-world needs, with a view to improving future coach education programmes.  Such is the criticism levelled at formal coach education provision that labels such as ‘coach training’ and ‘indoctrination’ have been used to describe it, with little consideration given to the process of actual learning, and a greater focus placed upon the educational endeavours of the governing body.  For example, it is suggested that coach education is more akin to ‘training’ than ‘education’, in that, it tends to produce ‘mechanistic’ coaches that have been assessed against ‘gold standard’ awards where variability of practice is demonstrated using out of context coaching segments/sessions, typically involving peers as players.  However, these types of award can be considered marginally successful in that coaches who achieve the required set of competencies are satisfying the governing body’s criteria.

 

Coach education in the UK has undergone considerable change in the last few years since the development of the United Kingdom Coaching Certificate (UKCC) in 2004 and more recently, the UK Coaching Framework, both pioneered by Sports Coach UK.  In the UKCC courses, from Levels 1-3, emphasis has been extensively placed on a learner-centred philosophy to underpin coaching delivery and, indeed, coach educators’ delivery to coach candidates. What this means is…

 

The Rugby Football Union (RFU)  has, for some time, been using phrases such as Game Sense, Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) and Learner-Centred in their coaching resource materials and via coach educators delivering on their courses and, therefore, it seemed logical to assume that these pedagogical approaches would be widely accepted and used throughout the rugby fraternity.  However, researchers have] warned of challenges in the implementation and development of such approaches and suggests that these should be introduced gradually into existing training programmes as often, coaches will interpret Game Sense in different ways, which will be reflected in their philosophy and practice.  Consequently, consideration should be given to the ways in which coaches develop their appreciation and understanding of new terminology before applying it.

 

Game Sense appears to be the most commonly adopted phrase used throughout RFU literature and coaching resources and is defined as, “a game-based coaching approach for team sports that uses player questioning to stimulate thinking, and tactical understanding and self-guided learning”.  This type of pedagogy requires a shift in focus from a coach-centred to player-centred approach, where learning is contextualised and framed within modified games or game-like situations or scenarios.  Recent research found that coaches faced many challenges when moving from traditional, direct methods of coaching where they felt more in control to the fluid, less structured and more indirect enquiry based approach that Game Sense necessitated, where the coach’s role was more of a facilitator.  This tends to be exaggerated with beginner coaches who are more disposed to adopting a ‘path of least resistance’, tending to stick to the more familiar, tried and tested coaching practices, possible learned during their apprenticeships of observation.

 

In recent years very little has been done to investigate and illuminate the assumptions about learning and the process of understanding that supports the change process that coaches are expected to go through when learning new pedagogies.  There exists a considerable challenge for education and CPD programmes that seek to develop constructivist approaches such as Game Sense as they need to address the unarticulated beliefs and constructivist assumptions about learning that currently abide.  This is crucial if educators are to become empowered to make informed decisions about their choice of strategies that they adopt when deigning and delivering constructivist approaches to learning.

Paul Reid

 

OBE for Sport Sociologist

The work of sport sociologists rarely receives popular acclaim, but Professor Celia Brackenridge has challenged convention throughout her career. An activist as well as a researcher and lecturer, Professor Brackenridge has been a forceful champion for gender equality since retiring from international hockey. However, it is in the field of child protection and athlete welfare that she has made her most significant impact leading policy developments within the International Olympic Committee and UNICEF, as well as being integral to the establishment of the world’s first Child Protection in Sport Unit in the UK. Despite initial vehement criticism from the sports world, the popular press and politicans, she has been a powerful and persistent advocate for the need to challenge abusive practices in youth sport. Her fearless vigour in challenging accepted practice, coupled with scholarship of the highest standard, has been the bedrock of a hugely significant contribution to British and international sport. In addition, over the past decade she has presented, examined and supported work at Edge Hill and has been particularly supportive of our introduction of a Sport Studies module on athlete welfare and safeguarding in sport. We are extremely pleased to see her work honoured in this way.

Mike Hartill

The sinking of the leisure profession and sport services in local government: parallels with the Titanic.

It is one hundred years since the Titanic set sail. Watching a television documentary recently on the reasons why it sank led me to draw parallels with research I’ve been undertaking for a professional body on the plight of local authority sport and recreation services in local government.

Most UK local authorities had a ‘golden age’ of service expansion in the 1970s when sport services proudly set sail like the Titanic with much fanfare. By the mid-1990s, the ship was taking in water as it collided with market forces. The first to drown aboard the Titanic were the Third Class passengers on the lower decks. Similarly, as a welfare-orientation was replaced with a market-orientation in sport services, authorities ceased to focus on services for all. Today, as survey findings highlight, only 20% of authorities support Sport for All with mainstream budgets and the first for the axe following recent reductions in local government finance have been the developmental services targeted at the low-incomed. To be fair, some authorities have attempted to defend social policy objectives within a model of the ‘ensuring state’ where, in a sense, the period 1997-2010 represented the last throw of the dice for the idea the local authorities exist to provide services for local populations. Under the current government, advocates of an ‘enabling state’ prefer local authorities to offer only residual ‘safety net’ services and all other provision can eventually be externalised to private sector operators, contractors in a Trust model, or Third sector providers within a Big Society model.

Over the next five years, those local authorities who are ‘failing’ to adapt and change in line with social trends, political whim and free market forces may choose to ‘ride the storm’ until a more favourable context for innovation and expansion emerges as has been the case in the past. However, looking forward, for the period 2010-15, survey respondents were pessimistic. For example, 89% foresee revenue budgets falling and affecting programmes; 86% anticipate further staff cuts; 84% expect to raise charges for services potentially affecting participation among the low incomed; 71% anticipate a negative impact on other service areas where alignment across service areas has occurred, for example, on health; 67% expected a reduction in the opening hours of facilities and 47% anticipated facility closures; 53% expect to reduce financial commitments to parks, fields an pitches utilised for both organised and casual participation; and only 50% expect to continue to distribute grants or provided match funding where ‘widening participation’ is a policy objective. Moreover, where services have been externalised, only 32% of respondents believed that leisure trusts ‘defended’ Sport for All.

As a result, service reviews and inquiries have begun as has ‘the blame game’. As sport services sink, who, if anyone, is to blame? Consider this question: was the sinking of the Titanic the fault of individuals? For example, the captain who inexplicably changed course, poor leadership among senior officers, cruise liner management for not implementing the latest safety guidelines, the financiers who cut corners with safety resulting in a shortage of lifeboats, or a spat between under-pressure signalling officers that led to a loss of contact between the Titanic and a nearby ship that could have rescued everyone on board. Alternatively, we can focus on the historical, technological, political, economic or social contexts in which the vessel sailed. For example, a rigid class system affecting decision-making, institutional failure and a culture of complacency in the industry, the limitations of the technology of the day, the adversarial political system where politicians sought popularity and credit from the launch of the venture and quickly sought blame when over a thousand lives were lost, or public expectation that demanded ‘grand projects’ within an optimistic expansionist pre-war zeitgeist. Or was it happenstance? For example, unforeseen delays in launching the ship, and once it set sail, the missing binoculars for the lookout, or an iceberg seriously off course for the time of year. The research points to a range of factors that combined and intertwined to sink the unsinkable. It is easy to play the blame game when times get tough. And for local authority services, particularly discretionary services, times are getting tough. The scramble for the lifeboats has begun.

In responding to the current crisis, authorities can be characterized as ‘pre-emptive’, ‘reactive’ or ‘defensive’. Those who can be defined as ‘pre-emptive’ have critical advantages over the others including stability of political support; a stronger resource base; and embeddedness of sport services into the authority, in terms of and alignment with corporate planning objectives, personal and professional networks and the culture of the authority. Further, these authorities tend to be in localities where there is a politically active, healthier and wealthier local citizenship and a robust voluntary and private sector sporting infrastructure. From these parts of the UK (and little has changed) were the First Class passengers on the upper decks of the Titanic who had longer to contemplate their circumstances in lifeboats fleeing the scene. (A few from the ‘squeezed middle’ made it as well). In a series of interviews, representatives of ‘pre-emptive’ authorities blamed those struggling for their lack of ‘wherewithal’, pro-action, innovation and ‘business acumen’. Moreover, officers argued that many leisure professionals have not ‘made the case’ for services either in financial, social or political terms, leaving services as ‘easy targets’ for cuts and it was noted that only four in ten of authorities have a dedicated sport strategy. But is this the fault of service professionals? Were politicians listening to the case for sport and where was the political leadership? On-going reviews of services resonate with the Titanic Inquiry where the blame fell on specific individuals in junior roles and on the captain, in his absence, who unlike a cruise-liner captain in the news recently, went down with the ship!

Since the mid-1990s, leisure departments in local government have been marginalised, endlessly re-organised, under-resourced and under-valued. Discretion and autonomy have been curtailed in an auditing culture where staff are required to follow the funding rather than have the opportunity to develop a strategic plan and must chase unrealistic targets to meet conditional funding criteria. The bottom line is that leisure professionals have been disempowered over time by successive governments seeking to undermine the resource base of professionals and an apathetic public who, on the whole, do not want to engage with the public sector offer, no matter how it is delivered or who it is delivered by. In fact, what is often missing from an analysis of decisions and events is the role of the general public. It could be argued that a politicised citizenship, through struggle and dissent, may prevail in demanding that their local sport facilities and programmes be retained. However, do we have a politicised citizenship across most of the UK? The case for retaining services would also be stronger if communities and individual residents actually made use of services and participated, both in terms of physical activity and local politics. But where public apathy rules, and tastes and preferences are for ‘bread and circuses’ where spectating overshadows participation, political apathy follows. Consequently, sport services, and the professionals that manage them, will suffer the full force of the cuts. So are we the public to blame? Perhaps the private, voluntary or community-led offers are now our preferences, assuming we can afford to pay to take part. Are local authority led services ‘fit for purpose’ today given an aging stock of facilities and short-term programmes with variable and sometimes negligible impact?

One way forward suggested by some interviewees is for local authorities to adopt a capacity-building agenda in local communities where officers enable residents to manage services or even take ownership of them. Self-reliant self-organising communities will, it is believed, form mutual bodies, cooperatives and social enterprises in a bid to be active citizens. However, this capacity-building agenda is clearly easier to achieve in parts of the country where community engagement is already high and there is the capacity and will to contribute to society. Where there is a democratic deficit and an expectation from a largely disengaged resident base that services will be provided for them, rights and entitlements dominate rather than responsibilities. In these localities, local authorities have extended resource dependency on the state through subsidy out of political expediency. In these localities, building capacity takes decades of investment and targeted support. Given the whims of an unregulated free market economy, the short-termism of an adversarial political system and the disinterest of a public defined by consumerism, the prospects for a profession in decline leave little room for optimism.

Unlike the demise of the Titanic that resulted in public outcry, several inquiries and a number of changes to seafaring practices, the demise of sport and recreation services may not be on the radar of most people until community facilities begin to be boarded-up and fields sold off to developers. Free market supporters will refer to a ‘necessary restructuring of the market’. Big Society supporters will state that communities must steer services, not local authority providers. Private sector operators may see a gap in the market, although the research did not find much of an appetite for managing leisure services. Instead, money is to be made in an expanding health and fitness market for those who value physical activity and can afford to take part. As for local authority sport services, it drifts rudderless around in circles seeking a rationale and remit for its product in increasingly choppy waters or has begun to sink. Worse, the ship has been boarded by pirates seeking to asset strip what is left of its treasure. But maybe I’ve taken this metaphor a little too far! It is perhaps only when the ship is at the bottom of the ocean that we will appreciate the value of at least those local authority services that did offer ‘guarantees’ that other sector providers do not offer, around accountability, equity, quality and sustainability. In the end, the public must decide whether services are worth fighting for, and critically, whether even the ‘guarantees’ cited are valued and worthy objectives. Maybe it’s time for a re-launch – a new ship – one that has political and public support, a business case, strong leadership and one that we all can get on board.

Empathy, qualitative research and the Zambian national football team

At the time of year when students are seeking support for research proposals or dissertations, I often find myself reading about attempts to ‘eliminate’ or ‘avoid’ bias. In such cases, I try to explain to the students that, while such elimination of bias may (to an extent) be possible in (some) quantitative research, the active involvement of the researcher in qualitative research and data collection means that some form of ‘bias’ is (probably) inevitable and it is the recognition of the researcher’s position and influence on the study that is more important. I will return to this issue later in this blog …

But my writing of this blog was prompted more by events in Libreville, Gabon on Sunday night rather than any musings about qualitative research and student assignments. It was there that Zambia won the African Cup of Nations for the first time beating the Ivory Coast 8-7 on penalties after the game itself had finished goalless. Zambia had beaten pre-tournament favourites Senegal and Ghana on their way to the final. However, their triumph in the final was even more remarkable given that the Ivory Coast team included six players who play in the English Premier League. In contrast, none of Zambia’s players represent clubs in the major European leagues, instead playing in contexts as diverse as the second-tier of Russian football, the Congo, Sudan, South Africa and Zambia’s own premier league. The result was all the more poignant for the connection with the disaster in 1993 in which all bar one of what was recognised as Zambia’s greatest ever team died in a plane crash having just left Libreville on the way to a fixture in Senegal. A few days before the final, the current players had visited and conducted a memorial on a beach close to where the plane went down in the sea nineteen years previously.

It is here that I must declare my own bias. I have been involved in research within Zambia since 2006, having visited the country three times. These visits and the friends I have made through them have been hugely important in my life. For me, the qualities shown by the Zambian team in the African Cup of Nations are those which I admire so much in the Zambian people I have met and worked with: huge courage in intensely adverse conditions, a strong sense of community and the desire to work together to achieve collective improve lives and a wonderful combination of friendliness, respectfulness and joyfulness. I can only imagine the scenes that must have greeted the success of the Zambian team in the communities in which I have spent much time but my own elation was such that my wife (perhaps worryingly) said that I was excited as she had seen me in a long time as the last penalty went in!

So to return to contrastingly mundane academic considerations … a colleague and I recently submitted and had accepted a paper based on interviews undertaken with a large number of Zambians involved in sport and development work in communities in the capital, Lusaka. In the paper, we argued that these Zambians had greater capacity to exert their own agency than much of the literature on hegemonic power relations in sport and international development gives credit for. Our paper generated a review and a subsequent response article that suggested that we did not give sufficient emphasis to the influence of the broader global context on the communities and the Zambians whose voices were at the centre of our research. If this was the case then I do not think it would be up to me to judge whether the research was ‘biased’ or not due to the empathy I had with the research participants. In fact, I do not think this is the correct question to ask with the issue rather being one related to the rigour of the qualitative research process. Irrespective, I would argue the need for and value of qualitative research that listens to people such as the Zambians who contributed to our study. They have voices and stories that are need to be heard and the story of the Zambian football team is a particularly strong case in point.

Iain Lindsey
Senior Lecturer in Sports Development

A REAL Game Changer: Racism and English Football

In the final week of semester one, second year Sport Studies students were visited by the men’s Under 19s FA England coach Noel Blake. Noel talked about his early childhood in Jamaica (chalk-and-slate instead of pen-and-paper) and his life in English professional football (Birmingham City, Portsmouth, Leeds United). Noel might be described as a no-nonsense central defender (although I suspect there are many centre-forwards who would offer different descriptions). Noel is currently the only male coach from a minority ethnic background at national level. Given the recent spate of stories around racism in football, Noel’s talk was particularly timely.

  Noel faced racism at all the clubs he played for yet managed to overcome some incredibly hateful prejudice through a determined refusal to allow the small-minded (who numbered many) to get the better of him. One particular story stood out. Whilst playing against Leeds, for the full 90 minutes, every time he touched the ball, Leeds fans would shout “Shoot that nigger.” The famed banana incident involving the much more high-profile John Barnes seems tame by comparison.  

Remarkably, and to the considerable concern of his wife, Noel chose to join Leeds United the very next season! It would be easy to dismiss this as brave but foolhardy, but it seemed clear to me that Noel’s career was a continuous and deliberate struggle against racism. He chose to face the racism that was endemic throughout football and throughout our society. 

The current trial for the brutal 1994 murder of Stephen Lawrence - and his family’s long fight for justice - provides us with a stark reminder that racism does not stop at throwing insults and fruit. This is why the decision by the FA to ban Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for using racist language towards another player is so important. Yet the response from many within the football fraternity has been an overriding concern for the severity of the punishment (eight matches) rather than the fundamental importance of effectively implementing anti-racist policies.

This is why the recent comments of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter are so important and revealing. As Noel stated, suggesting that racism can be resolved with a handshake demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding for the seriousness of this issue (although given Blatter’s past form on matters of equality, hardly surprising) and clearly suggests football has not advanced as far as it would like us to believe (although it’s certainly not on its own in this regard). The way in which football deals with racism on the pitch is extremely important, so the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to charge England captain John Terry with racially aggravated public disorder for using racist language towards QPR player Anton Ferdinand has perhaps provided an opportunity for much-needed debate on this issue.

It is clear that Noel Blake’s immense fortitude and determination to challenge racism at every turn, and in the most intimidating of circumstances, had an immense impact on British football. His resilience paved the way for our current stance on racism in football and his remarkable story deserves a much wider audience. Yet he also told us about another black player who was not as well-equipped to withstand the hatred directed at him. This young footballer suffered from severe depression and was eventually treated for serious mental health problems. These stories are seldom, if ever, heard, but we should recall them when ruminating on the words of FIFA, the actions of the FA, and the fate of players that resort to racist abuse.

Mike Hartill

January 2nd 2012 – For an update on the progress of the Suarez case, see the Guardian’s Why Liverpool may find the report on Luis Suárez uncomfortable reading and Extracts from the FA report on the Luis Suárez Patrice Evra racism case

Is it REALLY any wonder women’s sport gets left out in the cold?

The fact that no women feature on the shortlist for tonight’s BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award says more about the lack of value our culture places on women’s sport and the ‘old boys’ network’ selection process than it does about the success of female athletes this year.

Britain’s elite women athletes have had a remarkable year – swimmers Keri-Anne Payne and Rebecca Adlington became world champions, triathlete Chrissie Wellington won her fourth Ironman world championship, Sarah Stevenson took the world Taekwondo title, not to mention the achievements of the women’s cycling pursuit trio who won gold at the track world championships or the women’s rugby team who were victorious at the Six Nations, all of which barely featured in the mainstream media.

Yet female athletes have been overlooked in this year’s Sports Personality of the Year award in favour of male athletes who, in several cases, have had less success than their female counterparts but are more high profile. Tennis player Andy Murray, for instance, appears on the shortlist despite not having won a Grand Slam or being ranked number 1 in the world. The mainstream media’s standard response – that there’s an apparent lack of appetite for women’s sport – fails to recognise that we live in a culture that doesn’t value women’s sport.

The media routinely marginalises women’s sporting events and achievements, giving female athletes no more than 5% of print and broadcast coverage (WSFF, see:  http://wsff.org.uk/faq/why-media-coverage-important-women%E2%80%99s-sport). Moreover, between January 2010 and August 2011 sponsorship of women’s elite sport in the UK amounted to just 0.5% of the total market (WSFF, see: http://wsff.org.uk/publications/reports/big-deal).

Once we recognise how woefully the nation’s mainstream media and sports funders promote and value women’s sport culturally and financially, then the failure to have a woman on the shortlist for tonight’s award becomes much less surprising. And – crucially – unless our country’s media, government and funding bodies begin to value women’s sport, the brouhaha surrounding the lack of women on the Sports Personality of the Year award shortlist stands little chance of enacting lasting change.

The way in which nominations for the BBC award are compiled is also to blame. The sports editors of 27 national and regional publications suggest their top 10 nominees, which are then aggregated to form the final shortlist of 10. That is, the very same media who offer such paltry coverage of women’s sport get to select athletes to the shortlist for the BBC’s annual award. And with fewer than 10% of sports journalists in Britain being women – a lower proportion than in any other area of journalism (Sports Journalists Association, 2009) – perhaps it’s not surprisingly that of the original 27 publications that nominated athletes, 10 failed to nominate a woman at all: The Independent, The People, the Irish News, Metro, the Evening Standard, the Daily Post, the Western Mail, the Daily Star Sunday and Nuts and Zoo magazines.

Moreover, as Daily Telegraph columnist Tanya Aldred points out, many of the publications that nominate candidates are also in the business of routinely objectifying women: “Three publish topless pictures of women and two — Zoo and Nuts magazines – peddle little better than soft porn and have an interest in women more visceral than thoughtful” (see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/8924273/Sports-Personality-of-the-Year-does-anyone-care-about-Britains-female-sports-icons.html). Ironically, several of the publications that did not nominate women went on to have columns lamenting this (Metro being one example: http://www.metro.co.uk/sport/883331-why-are-no-women-up-for-the-bbc-sports-personality-of-the-year-award).

As a child, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award was one of the highlights of the run-up to Christmas in my sports-mad household. This year I think I’ll turn off.

Notes: The Sports Personality of the Year Award was introduced by the BBC in 1954. In total, 13 women have won the award in its 57-year history, the first being swimmer Anita Lonsborough in 1962 and the most recent being equestrian eventer Zara Phillips in 2006. In 2010, although women were nominated for several of the awards presented on the BBC show, men won every one of the titles. Following this year’s nominations, the BBC says it will review how nominations for the Sports Personality of the Year Award are decided.

Dr. Melanie Lang

Senior Lecturer in Sports Studies

Using Text Messages in International Development Research

Evaluation methods used by Edge Hill University for a Sports Equipment Project operating across the UK and Ghana highlight the potential value of text messages for international development communication.

When researchers Iain Lindsey and Jimmy O’Gorman were contracted by UK Sport to evaluate a project designed to develop proposals for the manufacture of sustainable sport equipment in Ghana involving collaboration between students in universities in the United Kingdom and Ghana, they knew they faced a challenge understanding the perspectives of Ghanaian students given that travel to the country was not possible within the scope of the evaluation.

Dealing with the distance

Overcoming these challenges, they attempted to develop innovative methods by which the Ghanaian students could contribute their views to the evaluation. Initially, they suggested that students could create video diaries or write about their views on the project in emails. However, undertaking ongoing interview conversations by text message proved to be a successful method of communication across the geographical divide.

Using text messages

Ghanaian students liked the idea of contributing to the evaluation by text message as this was a form of communication that they already used regularly and it overcame problems of access to the internet and email. Students were given a small honorarium to cover the costs incurred.

Lack of depth vs instant results

While there were occasional limitations in terms of the depth of text message conversation, this method of communication holds promise for future research and practice in international development. Iain explains “we think text messages could be really useful in keeping in touch with participants in overseas programmes on an ongoing basis. Through regular texts, participants can give live updates on programme progress as well as their experiences”.

A full version of the interim evaluation report on the Sports Equipment Project is available here.