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Search Engines Reveal Female Gender Bias In Sports Articles Imagery

A new study has highlighted the underrepresentation of women within a number of sports when looking at image search results on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines.

The research revealed that just 1% of the results in image searches for “footballers” contained female players, making football the least female-representative sport in terms of images shown. Rugby closely followed in second, with only 7% of image results for “rugby players” showing female players.

With millions of image searches conducted every day, SportsShoes.com commissioned the research to highlight the inequality in gender representation within sport and the impact that this can have on women and young girls who are using these image libraries to search for sportspeople.

The study analysed search image results for ten sports across five different search engine libraries, looking at the percentage of male and female representing images that appeared when searching for terms such as “footballers”, “swimmers” and “cyclists”.

Sports with the Most Gender Bias in Search Engine Image Results

Gender Bias RankingSportFemale ImagesMixed ImagesMale Images
1Footballers1%0%99%
2Rugby Players7%0%93%
3Cyclists15%21%64%
4Ice Hockey Players16%1%83%
5Golfers19%4%77%
6Short Distance Runners34%7%60%
7Long Distance Runners36%17%17%
8Weightlifters38%2%60%
9Swimmers49%3%48%
10Tennis Players53%1%46%

As the third and fourth worst sports for male image bias, searches for “cyclists” and “ice hockey players” return a similar percentage of female images, with 15% and 16% respectively.

However, cycling has the highest number of images showing males and females together of the sports analysed (21%), closing the gender representation gap more than other sports.

Encouragingly, when compared to the other sports analysed, tennis is leading the charge for females, with 53% of image results in a search for “tennis players” containing female players, the most out of all sports analysed.

Swimming was found to have the most balanced selection of images with 49% female, 48% male and 3% mixed.

Perhaps surprisingly, weightlifting is also on the higher end of gender equality, albeit still slightly skewed towards males, with a 38%/60% female to male split.

Psychologist Dr Saima Latif argues that a lack of exposure to female sporting role models and an underrepresentation of sportswomen in image searches will deter sports participation amongst young women and could affect their mental and physical wellbeing:

“If girls and young women are not seeing females in sport, this sends a general message out to them and to society in general, that women’s sport is unimportant and unworthy of attention. If the female sportspeople are not visible then girls will not wish to emulate them or aspire to be like them.

They will not have any desire to become sportswomen, thereby further jeopardising the female sports industry.

When searching for sports stars, if the results do not show female sportspeople, then ultimately girls will not wish to aspire to be like them or emulate them.

This is a vicious circle which will only contribute to the lack of visibility of female sportspeople.

Overall, the under-representation of women in sport may produce a negative view of sport as a whole amongst women and therefore impact girls’ participation in sport generally as well as their general physical health and mental wellbeing.”

Louise Cartner, General Manager at SportsShoes.com, commented:

“Sport is a fantastic part of life and has such amazing mental and physical health benefits that it’s more important than ever that people across all genders are encouraged to partake. We were surprised to find women so underrepresented in image searches for some of the most popular sports, and to discover only 1% of images of ‘footballers’ included females, especially when the national female teams have been so successful.”

For more information and to see how the five different search engines compared, please visit: https://www.sportsshoes.com/gym/expert-advice

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