From marching into the arena as part of team GB at the Opening Ceremony of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal to being the first female Director of Sport at the BBC, British Olympian and former gymnast Barbara Slater talks women’s sport coverage in broadcasting and how sport has helped her somersault to success.
So how do you go from the gym beam to being the BBC’s Director of Sport? “Firstly, you have to gain lots of experience in broadcasting,” begins Slater, who joined the BBC 30 years ago on a training initiative. “But I don’t think I would ever have got a job at the BBC had it not been for my background in sport.”
Slater, who is an advocate of training programmes and mentoring, was a guest during a panel session at the second International Federations (IF) Women in Leadership Forum organised jointly by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) last year. She has, without question, been shaped by her passion for sports.
“Sport is a fantastic way to build character and skills!” exclaims the Director. “It opened the door for me and I was able to seize that opportunity. I think that many of the qualities you gain from sport - resilience, the rigour of training, drive and determination - have helped me in my career in broadcasting - it toughens you up.”
I think that many of the qualities you gain from sport - resilience, the rigour of training, drive and determination - have helped me in my career in broadcasting - it toughens you up.GREAT BRITAIN
It certainly seems to have equipped her with the skills to successfully handle her role as the first female head of BBC Sport, where she is responsible for overseeing sports coverage across radio, TV and online. She was also responsible for overseeing all of the sport output from the Olympic Games in London in 2012, which was the “most watched TV event in UK broadcasting history”.
“I think being a competitor gives you insight and skills that you can take with you into future roles. There is nothing that I have ever done in the world of broadcasting, even directing a Wimbledon final, which compares with the nerves and pressure of trying to land a new highly complex and risky gymnastics move! What you do in your professional career is pressure of a different kind, but my background as a competitor gave me a great foundation.”
What future for women in sport?
While her professional success is first and foremost rooted in the success of BBC Sport under her leadership, Slater is a keen advocate for women’s sport, and she admits “the picture is mixed” when it comes to coverage of women’s sport, as many media outlets “do not report, or cover women’s sport sufficiently”.
“At the BBC, we’ve been very active making sure we’re always seeking great stories about women athletes,” comments Slater. “Progress is being made - we’re seeing a transformation in the level of interest.”
Speaking of the strides that have been made in increasing women’s participation at the Games, and believing there is “genuine gender equality in some sports”, the Olympian encourages organisations, including federations, to “promote their successful female athletes as much as they promote successful male ones”.
Citing the example of women’s football in the United Kingdom, which has seen audiences significantly increase in recent years, Slater believes that today there are great opportunities for women in sport and for organisations to normalise, and build interest in, the coverage of women’s sport. It’s a question of seizing “the moments and opportunities when they arise”, to increase engagement in particular women’s sport or sporting competitions.
Having observed and experienced first-hand the shift in attitudes towards women in sport, the retired athlete believes that the future for women in sport is bright as “the barriers are coming down”.
On 28 March, the IOC, in partnership with ASOIF, will co-organise the third edition of the IF Gender Equality in Leadership Forum. In the wake of the IOC Executive Board approving the Gender Equality Review Project, this Forum will give IF leaders a platform to discuss its findings, share best practices and seek new solutions together, to bridge the gender gap.