We propose the translation of the article published by Molly McElwee on March 7, 2022 on The Telegraph
On International Women’s Day, the Lawn Tennis Association has challenged Google to end favoritism towards male tennis players. In fact, according to a “shock” research published by the British Tennis Government, women’s sport in online searches has been made practically invisible. Although tennis is one of the most balanced sports in terms of gender equality, with equivalent cash prizes in the majors and a good global recognition of several female athletes, it seems that online search algorithms are hindering its egalitarian reputation.
Analyzing approximately 8,000 keywords resulting from over 150,000 URLs, the LTA-commissioned Gender Equality Research Study found that the results and content provided by the platform for generic athlete search terms are by default male-focused.
In the Google search for “the best tennis players in the world”, 98% of the top 51 results in the “carousel” of athletes were men, except Serena Williams – the only tennis player present. Taking a closer look at search results for images with requests – query – generic, 78% of the images that appeared at the top of the page (the one visible on the screen without having to scroll down) show men, tennis players represented just 15%, the rest consisted of mixed results.
In the videos on the first page of results for generic searches of “best“/”top” player86% of the 269 slots available in the preview frame showed male athletes – and among the section results key moments of the videos, only 14% featured women. The study also found that, in the “Related searches” section, 92% of the options available directed users to other content about men. This situation does not seem to be linked only to tennis, or to sport in general. As noted in a 2018 Pew Research Center study, women are largely underrepresented in image search results in a variety of professions.
The LTA has chosen International Women’s Day to urge several organizations, including Google, to increase the visibility of women’s sport by eliminating the gender discrimination that exists in search engine algorithms for sport. “Greater visibility of women’s tennis and women’s sport in general is essential, because communicates to women that sport is something that concerns them and can lead to greater female participation in sport“ explains the COO of the LTA, Julie Porter.
“Recently, we have seen that the women’s Grand Slam finals have attracted more viewers than the men’s, yet this visibility has not yet surfaced in search engine results. It is objectively shocking to find how dominated these search results are by information about men. Although gender equality for online searches is an issue that goes beyond a mere sports arena, if this is the situation for a sport with such a strong female presence, one can easily understand how important it is to face and solve the problem“.
The captain of the British Billie Jean Cup team, Anne Keothavongis concerned that this discrimination may affect participation in sport: “I knew it was biased towards the male gender, but I didn’t realize how much. Of course, I don’t know if it’s really surprising, the feeling is that of having come a long way, but of still being very far from the finish line. We want to make sure that sport is perceived as something that can be enjoyed by men and women; without the visibility of content that confirms it, many might believe that it is something that is not for them“.
A Google spokesperson commented: “For us it is a priority to work on the right representation of genres in the online search. We have made significant progress in this area over the years. Since our systems organize web content and frequently asked questions from people, the results may reflect partially discriminating positions or positions characterized by stereotypes that already exist on the web and in the real world. The web is constantly evolving and we are optimistic regarding the improvements that could occur in the correct representation of genres in the media and in society in general. As always, we are committed to improving online research and we want to make it useful for everyone “.
Translation by Giulia Bosatra