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The world of sports needs to expand its audience

The current state of sports entertainment lacks true representation
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What can be done to make sports more inclusive and more appealing to people as a source of entertainment? DINA DONG/THE VARSITY
What can be done to make sports more inclusive and more appealing to people as a source of entertainment? DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Burly, sweaty men. Obnoxious yelling at the TV. The incessant playing of ball games for hours on end. These are just some of the many things that come to mind at the mention of watching sports for entertainment. 

Personally, I must admit, I have never been one to carve time out of my day to sit down and watch a football, basketball, or rugby game. Thus, I can’t confidently vouch that these are indeed the realities of sports as entertainment. But the media that I see as I scroll through my Facebook and Instagram feeds has conditioned me to believe that this is indeed the existing state of sports affairs — a set of activities that can be violent, man-centric, and definitely not appealing to people like myself. 

Why is it that novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the chick flicks, thrillers, and comedy films that I avidly consume entice my heart and mind so much more than watching football or rugby games? I think it is all about the stakes and what I gain out of consuming the material. 

I see glimpses of myself in the characters I watch and read about. In the film Mean Girls, I fervently root for Cady Heron to dethrone Regina George as queen bee because I can sympathise with her dislike of being around condescending people with superiority complexes. To some extent, I can understand her burning desire to push Regina off her high horse. In the novel The Great Gatsby, I yearn for the happiness of Jay Gatsby, because I can empathise with him and his desire to achieve something that is seemingly out of reach. 

As I consume these forms of entertainment, I personally become invested in these stories and in their characters — I want them to succeed. By the end of a two-hour long film or a 300-page long novel, I know that I will have gone through an entire journey, with a climax and an outcome that brings me a sense of closure or nonclosure. Either way, I will have gotten a sense of fulfilment journeying with characters through their life and being transported into another world, where I can momentarily leave my own and live vicariously through them. 

Beyond that, in movies and novels, you are eased into the storyline. Before you get too far, you’re provided the necessary understanding of the world you are about to be immersed into. You are given a basic comprehension of the circumstances and the stakes at play in the story. 

On the other hand, with copious amounts of jargon and seemingly complex rules innately ingrained in sports, it seems rather daunting to watch any game if you are not already equipped with the necessary background knowledge about the sport. With the limited amount of free time I have for entertainment, this perceived additional obstacle has pushed me to consume other forms of entertainment, like the films and novels that I’ve grown comfortable with. 

Growing up in a conservative, traditional Asian household — one where I was shaped to conform to particular gender norms — ballet classes, pink dresses, and Barbie dolls were always the way to go. My friends consumed romantic comedies and romance novels with a passion. Rugby classes or track and field training? Definitely not a priority in the blueprint laid out for me. 

In that environment, it is no surprise that sports as a source of entertainment was not something I even considered. It doesn’t help that in this day and age, there is an immense lack of representation of women in sports in mainstream media. 

In 2019, a research study by Cheryl Cooky of Purdue University, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Southern California, found that coverage of women’s sports on the news only amounted to 5.4 per cent of all airtime, hardly any different from the 5 per cent reported in 1989. Since there’s barely any representation for women in sports in the mainstream media, this deprives young girls of women role models they can look up to in sports and inevitably reinforces the notion that sports are meant for boys, not girls. 

Now, what can be done to make sports more inclusive and more appealing to people as a source of entertainment? The apparent answer would be to make fundamental changes to the world of sports and to its representation in the media, to make sure women are equally represented and respected. 

But even though such a scenario would be ideal, this kind of systemic change will take much time and effort to enact and will not occur overnight. What can be done on a smaller scale?

On an individual level, existing sports fans can encourage their friends who aren’t fans to watch sports with them, to create an environment conducive to their enjoyment of sports. They should teach them about the games they’re watching, sharing why they are passionate about them and what their favourite things about the sport are. Small but steady efforts like this will no doubt make the sports world a more inclusive one.