PROMOTION AND UNDERSTANDING OF GENDER EQUALITY IN SPORT HAS BEEN
LONG OVERDUE, BUT THERE ARE POSITIVE SIGNS OF CHANGE, SAYS NANCY LEE
BEYOND THE RINGS
TIME TO BREAK DOWN
he headlines and commentary
from the Olympic Games Rio
2016 were typical. Korean
reporter refers to archer Chang Hye-jin
as the “city fairy” with the “beautiful face
and refreshing smile”, asking her if
“Cupid’s arrow had reached her heart”.
Despite becoming Spain’s first-ever
female Olympic swimming champion,
an article on Mireia Belmonte focuses
on her coach. Canadian online outlet
suggests marriage proposal is better
than winning an Olympic medal. British
commentator calls women’s judo match
a “cat fight”. For Katinka Hosszú and
Corey Cogdell-Unrein, credit for their
success is given to their husbands.
And of course, the usual athlete
maternity stories, this time Dana
Vollmer and Maialen Chourraut.
There are many reasons why the
media disparage women’s sports.
Obliviousness is at the top of that list.
Gender-neutral portrayal is just not
on their radar. However, there are
signs of change.
I have worked at 12 Olympic
Games and, for the first time in Rio,
witnessed media colleagues expressing
their own frustration with the maligning
and sexism. It was 2016 and change
was well overdue.
In November, the IOC’s Press
Committee, consisting of representatives
from the major international sports
news agencies, launched a strategy
to promote awareness for gender-
Great Britain’s BBC has increased
its coverage of women’s sport, utilising
a variety of means including a full-time
editor who presents sportswomen’s
story lines to all BBC platforms.
And host broadcasters are training
and recruiting more women into
freelance production and technical roles.
Even if the media too often give short
shrift to women’s sport, it would be
short-sighted to lay all the blame in that
court. There are plenty of changes that
sports organisations can make to put
female athletes on an equal field of play
for media coverage.
Allocating women’s events to venues
far from the media centres makes it
more difficult to assign reporters. Too
often publicity campaigns emphasise
the athlete’s appearance, not her
athleticism. Why expect gender-neutral
portrayal when sports leaders believe
certain styles of competition apparel
make female athletes attractive for the
cameras? And it’s not the media’s fault
if gender equality is not reflected in the
boardroom – where the key decisions
on women’s sports are made.
Despite the barriers, there are
some positive signs for change.
A gender lens is now part of the
decision-making for the Olympic Games
competition schedules. Quick wins
happen. In PyeongChang, on the final
day of the Olympic Winter Games, there
will be an equal number of women’s and
men’s events. On the last day of the
Games in Sochi in 2014, there were
three events for men, zero for women.
Four years earlier in Vancouver, there
were two events for men, zero for
women. The media cannot cover
women’s events if they don’t exist.
The results of the 2017 IOC Gender
Equality Review Project are very
encouraging. This comprehensive
on her way to K1
canoe slalom gold
at the Olympic
Games Rio 2016
initiative undertaken by the IOC with
its Olympic Movement stakeholders
has produced recommendations for
gender equality which are actionable
and achievable, several of which
address gender-neutral portrayal.
If there’s a message to take forward,
it is that ensuring sportswomen are
treated equally and respectfully
portrayed is not just a job for the media,
it’s an assignment for everyone. ■
Nancy Lee is the former Head of Sport,
and Olympic Chef de Mission, for the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,
and was Chief Operating Officer for
Olympic Broadcasting Services at the
Olympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010.
She is currently the advisor to the IOC
Gender Equality Review Project.
26 OLYMPIC REVIEW