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Saudi female runner looks back at London
02:44 - Source: CNN

The “World Sport presents: An Uneven Playing Field” documentary investigates whether the drive for equality has withered a year after the 2012 Olympics. Click here for showtimes, videos and features.

Story highlights

CNN's Amanda Davies heralds impact London Olympics had on women's sport

Coverage of female sport was unprecedented for two weeks of the Games

Focus was on ability, power and performances and not on hair or shoes

But 12 months on where has all the coverage of women's sport gone?

CNN  — 

This is the image that struck me more than any other watching the completed “World Sport Presents: An Uneven Playing Field” documentary for the first time.

A group of women in Saudi Arabia huddled around a television screen watching and recording the moment that history was made – and barriers were broken – blazing a trail for future generations of women in their country.

Sarah Attar becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to represent their flag on the track at the Olympics. Never before had these women been able to watch one of their own running and representing like that on an international stage.

It was unique, and unprecedented. And for me, it sums up London 2012 and women’s sport.

Those three weeks of the Olympics were undoubtedly like no other in my career as a sports journalist. Never before had we seen so much coverage of women’s sports.

It wasn’t just the number of women we were talking about, but also the way in which we were talking about them.

From Attar to her fellow Saudi Arabian trailblazer Wodjan Shahrkhani, to Jessica Ennis, Nicola Adams, Kayla Harrison, Gabby Douglas, Ye Shiwen and Ruta Meilutyte, there were women making the headlines everywhere you looked.

We were discussing the battles, their performance, power and skills – not just their hairstyles and love of shoes.

It made it virtually impossible to rationalize the now infamous words of the founder of the modern Olympic movement – Pierre de Coubertin – from 1896: “Olympics with women would be incorrect, unpractical, uninteresting, and unaesthetic.”

I’m pleased to say we really do seem to have moved on from the view of women’s sport as incorrect, unpractical and unaesthetic. Saudi Arabia was the last stronghold of that.

But worryingly, now the excitement of the Olympics has died down, “uninteresting” seems to have returned to the psyche. Twelve months on from “the Women’s Games” where has all the coverage gone?

I carried out a quick survey on Friday August 2: admittedly it was pretty unscientific, but of 56 pages of sports coverage in six daily national newspapers from the UK and U.S. there were only five – yes, five – stories about women’s sport.

That’s five out of 122 stories, and that would be classed as a good day.

The ones there were covered South Korean golfer Inbee Park going for her fourth straight professional major in a calendar year, a feat that’s never been accomplished in the women’s game.

It would have been a quite incredible achievement. Can you imagine the excitement if it had been Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy on the verge of such an incredible quadruple?

The other stories were about Ennis pulling out of the World Athletics Championships.

Or in other words, the reigning Olympic heptathlon champion pulling out of her sport’s second biggest event. Compare that to the coverage Bradley Wiggins got when it was announced he wouldn’t be defending his Tour de France crown in 2013.

Hands up (honestly) if you knew it wasn’t in fact Inbee Park that won the women’s British Open but America’s Stacy Lewis.

How much coverage in newspapers, or in TV news bulletins, was given to the phenomenal achievement of Germany’s women’s football team winning its sixth straight European Championship?

Or Missy Franklin winning a record sixth gold medal at the world swimming championships?

These women at the top of their game are done a disservice by the media. Why should men’s sport be seen as more worthy of coverage than women’s events?

Why should we have to search these stories out online? There’s no less competition, skill or sacrifice in what they achieve.

Just like the International Olympic Committee’s fight to get Saudi Arabia to send female athletes to the Olympics, it wasn’t easy for those women to watch Attar’s historic moment.

Such was the opposition to allowing women to compete, domestic television stations and newspapers chose to ignore it altogether and instead focused their attention on the bronze medal-winning men’s equestrian team.

But the race was shown on a number of satellite channels and word did get out there. The Olympics has begun a process in Saudi Arabia that looks set to dramatically change the lives of women in the country.

Having previously been banned, sports classes are now allowed in girls’ schools – and the country’s first sports club for women opened in June, with training programs including physical fitness, karate and yoga.

Whether we like it or not, the way media covers – or doesn’t cover – people and events goes a long way to shaping attitudes. Look at what’s trendy or in fashion or who’s beautiful. If the media tell us it often enough, then people start to believe it.

Sport is no different. Sarah Attar is being held up by many as an example to young girls in Saudi Arabia. A trailblazer to inspire not just a generation but a whole shift in society. Maybe a few more of us need to take note.