Online and social media have changed the face of Olympic coverage forever, just as it has changed media in general.
With print outlets often running online editions, increasing citizen created journalism, and the ability to interact and react, many people have more access to consuming and producing information than ever before. With this has come many opportunities for niche information sources, and coverage of women's sports is one area that stands to benefit, given the right resources.
Media coverage of men's sports vastly overshadows women's, whether in the pages of sports newspaper sections or national television broadcasts. While the degree of gender inequality in sports coverage varies from country to county, overall Southern Africa fares quite dismally. According to the Gender Links' Gender and Media Progress Study (2010), sports are a dominating focus of media in Southern Africa, yet women's voices comprise only 12% of all this coverage. The proportion of women sportspersons interviewed is even lower, at 8% of all sportspeople interviewed.
Social and online media have become one of the fastest growing open mediums of communication in this era of technology. According to Lisa Cyr , Communications, Media and Promotions Associate at the Association for Progressive Communications, social and online media could potentially help to turn the tide.
"Online and social media - blogs, networking sites - you name it can help increase coverage of women's sports because these allow for citizen journalism to take place," says Cyr. "Anyone interested in women's sport can follow the events and results and post to their respective blogs and networks, and increase visibility of the women athletes and their sports."
Many Olympians are doing just that, so much so that the Olympic committee even set up a central hub where fans can search and follow their favourites. Zimbabwean born swimmer Kirsty Coventry has over 5000 twitter followers, while South African triathlete Kate Roberts has 1800. Using such platforms athletes can directly communicate with their fans, and also update them on their journey in the London Olympic 2012.
Along with the Olympic social media hub, there is also a dedicated You Tube Channel featuring up-to-date videos, and some sports, for example Women's Soccer, have set up their very own web pages. This year's slogan for the London Olympics is "Inspire a Generation." For girl athletes who look up to these athletes, they no longer have to rely on media's sporadic coverage of women's sports to stay up to date.
With all of this increased online activity, the Olympic Committee has also put in place strict guidelines protecting broadcast rights, and rules to govern "un-sportly behaviour." One of the rules of tweeting or writing is that no racist or sexist comments or updates will be tolerated. Athletes who do this will be sent packing, as happened with Greek champion triple jumper Voula Papachristou.
While online media does have the potential to increase coverage of women's' sports, there are challenges. "Much of the mainstream coverage on the web comes from large media outlets such as Cable News Network and the British Broadcasting Corporation, which also have access to high levels of bandwidth," notes Cyr. "This can make it more difficult for many people in countries where the internet is expensive or where high speed internet is not available to access some of the footage."
This is a sentiment echoed by Dineo Mofokeng, a 16-year old aspiring basketball player who depends on internet cafes to access the web, and sometimes does not have enough money to browse.
"There is a lot that one can be informed about, and at times I need to borrow a phone from a friend to access the net. Which means also saving lunch money to buy air time," says Mofokeng. "As a student and sports lover, it's not everyday that I have this money as my mother doesn't see it as an investment in me becoming a serious sportswoman one day."
Mofokeng would love to turn to social media to stay up to date with what's going on at the Olympics, but she, and many girls like her, still depend on the little traditional media coverage there is. If we are to "Inspire a Generation," that includes girls, there's a need to increase traditional media coverage, while also making the most of new media technologies available.
Mbuso Ngubane is a youth mentor at the Democracy Begins in Conversation project and co-host of the Radio Constitution Hill Show. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series produced with Youth Fit AFrica on gender, sport and the 2012 London Olympics, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.