- Investing in women’s sports in the region is ‘simply good business,’ says platform’s pioneering co-founder
TORONTO: Since its launch last October, “The Mettleset,” the Middle East’s first and only podcast dedicated to female athletes in the region, has pioneered coverage of niche sports that are underrepresented in mainstream media.
Dawn Barnable, an ultra-distance cyclist, and Afshan Ahmed, an endurance athlete, founded the podcast and multimedia platform to strengthen media coverage of sportswomen.
In 2016, Barnable, who is also the founder of a UAE-based communications consultancy that caters to sports brands, was having difficulty pitching stories of female sportswomen to mainstream media outlets.
“I noticed that there wasn’t any interest in hearing about women’s sports,” she said.
She quickly realized that women’s sports are rarely covered on television. “If you go to any mainstream news outlet’s sports section or website, the majority of coverage is on men’s sports,” she told Arab News.
This is not just a regional issue, but a global one.
A joint study by the University of Southern California and Purdue University showed that over a 30-year period, 80 percent of sports television failed to include any segments on female athletes.
Historically, coverage of women’s sports has been low. But even as recently as 2019, an overwhelming 95 percent of television sports coverage was focused on men. The results were similar across social media and online sports coverage, the study found.
Moreover, most people fail to engage with women’s sport because of its lower profile, a YouGov study revealed.
Forty percent said that they see less media coverage of women’s sport and 30 percent said that it has limited marketing.
“I saw an opportunity for sports media to cover different types of athletes and stories than what we’re used to seeing,” Barnable said.
It was also around this time that she began training to become an ultra-distance cyclist.
“As I was exposed to the sporting ecosystem, I saw the other side of sports, just how passionate the community is.”
Between the two experiences of working in sports media and becoming an athlete, Barnable saw an opportunity to create a platform that would share female athletes’ stories or underreported sports stories.
“The Mettleset” podcast features guests ranging from record-breaking athletes, sports researchers, medical experts to community sports leaders.
Previous guests have included Dina Al-Tayeb, the first Arab and Saudi triathlete to complete an Ironman distance triathlon; Safiya Al-Sayegh, a racing cyclist who represented the UAE in the UCI Women’s World Tour; and Linda Krockenberger, the UAE’s first female camel jockey who went on to set up a training center.
The show “provides a different dimension to sports coverage in the region,” said co-founder Ahmed.
“We’ve set out to capture not only elite athletes who make headlines but also the real stories of grit and tenacity of community athletes who have pushed through some very difficult and challenging circumstances to play sport.”
The podcast features a range of interview formats, from origin stories and soundbite compilations to race reports and educational content. “This variety has helped elevate the quality and quantity of coverage (and adds to) growing interest and sporting initiatives in the region,” Ahmed said.
The show, which currently has 53 episodes, enjoys a high ranking on Apple Podcasts. It is No. 1 in the wilderness category in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Egypt, as well as in the sports category in Qatar, Oman and Lebanon.
The podcast’s audience is drawn from 95 countries, with the highest numbers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
“Listeners tell us that it’s amazing to have a platform that highlights and celebrates stories that might otherwise not be told,” Barnable said.
“We’re grateful to the athletes for trusting us with their stories. It’s also fantastic to see how listeners support or follow the athletes’ journey.”
The show’s success shows there is a demand for this type of content. “People are interested in hearing sportswomen’s perspectives and stories from the region,” said Barnable.
For Ahmed, the biggest takeaway has been the relatability of the platform. “What I’m most proud of achieving, is helping take away the ‘intimidation’ associated with sports. It demonstrates that it is (possible) for anyone and everyone.”
Like many of their guests, the duo behind “The Mettleset” began training for professional sports at a later stage in life, and have found that this adds a unique element of authenticity to their platform.
“We want to amplify the voice of underrepresented athletes and one key element is allowing them to share their story fully, in their own voice,” said Barnable.
“It’s our hope, goal and mission to diversify the sporting ecosystem, so that when you look at the sports section of a newspaper or website, it shouldn’t be unusual to see sportswomen.”
Regional governments have made significant investments in sports. However, Barnable said there is still much to do, particularly in the private sector.
“Nothing flourishes without attention and investment,” she said. “Funding and sponsorships are often tied into the visibility of athletes. And many athletes cite challenges of securing sponsorship.”
There is a massive opportunity for brands to partner with women’s sports teams, individual athletes and stakeholders in women’s sport to create shared value for all parties, she said.
“The return on investment in women’s sports is massive because it’s only set to grow — and we’re seeing it grow at such a fast pace.
“Investing in women’s sports is simply good business,” she said.
“The Mettleset” is available on all major platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Anghami.