Women are not just window dressing for the Olympics

149744628 300x199 Women are not just window dressing for the Olympics

Katherine Grainger and Anna Watkins of Great Britain celebrate with their gold medals for the Women's Double Sculls final on Day 7 of the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 3, 2012. (Getty Images)

This year’s Olympics have the potential to be the best ever for women’s sport, with more female competitors, more events and more medals up for grabs than ever before.  British women have been doing amazingly well, with two gold medals already for women in the rowing.  However, looking at some of the media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that women are only competing in one sport – Beach Volleyball.  The debate around the Olympics has descended in some quarters as to whether Prince Harry has been ogling girls in bikinis or not this fortnight.  Accompanied by the requisite pictures, of course.

For the team, the issue of costume has defined the way their sport has been reported over the years.  Team GB Olympic hopefuls Shauna Mullin and Zara Dampney have both complained about the fact that the sport is overshadowed by an obsession with what they are wearing and said their family and friends hated the fact that they were recognised only for wearing bikinis. ‘They find it really upsetting,’ Mullin said. ‘They say to me, “How can they still be talking about your bikinis? Don’t they understand how hard you work?”.

And it’s not just beach volleyball, Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms recently said she wanted to transform the profile of sportswomen, so they’re not obliged to wear skimpy outfits to make a living.  Gail calls the experience of dealing with sponsors horrible: “I had sponsors telling me to wear fake tan and a tight kit. But you can’t be like, ‘No, I don’t believe in that’ when you have a mortgage to pay.  I know I got those sponsors because I was blond. But I had to play their game if I wanted to make a living.”

Based on the media coverage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the public see women’s sport as merely the window dressing of the Olympics, but research shows that’s not the case.  The WSFF’s stats show that 54% of people believe women’s sport is just as exciting as men’s, and 61% would watch more of it if it were televised – and not for the bikinis.  Considering that women’s sport currently only receives five per cent of sports coverage in this country, increasing it would not be difficult.

And there is a really important reason for celebrating women’s sporting achievements, rather than how well they fill out their kit.  The obsession with women’s appearance has a detrimental effect on girl’s attitudes to sport. In a culture where being thin is prized over being fit, our own research showed that half of girls surveyed think that getting sweaty is “not feminine” and many agree that there aren’t many sporting role models for girls. This has resulted in a society where inactivity is the norm – just one in ten young girls are currently doing the recommended daily amount of exercise.

The 2012 Olympics is a perfect opportunity for the media to celebrate women for their sporting achievements. Our first silver and gold medals were won by women, and some even think that Team GB women could win more medals than the boys for the first time ever. We are asking people to get behind our campaign Go Girl to celebrate the success of Team GB women at the Olympics and to show girls that being active, and not just looking attractive is something to be proud of.

Sue Tibballs is Chief Executive of Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation

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  • Jubileegirl

    Wall to wall football coverage doesn’t mean it’s the most popular, it just gives the impression that it is. The Olympic games is proving that there are a lot of other sports out there that are just as popular and I think that has surprised quite a few people, especially the media.

  • Razas

    Participation and spectator rates mean it’s the most popular, and by quite a long way.
    Which sports specifically do you believe are just as popular, and what criteria are you considering in order to claim they are just as popular as football.
    I would add that multiple sports are shown on TV, even terrestial TV, including golf, cricket, athletics, tennis, motorsport, boxing, rugby, cycling etc – but of course less so than football because they are less popular.

  • Razas

    Agreed Alan. If anything, you could argue there is more focus on the women than the men. At worst, it is pretty even coverage.

  • metacog

    Except the article wasn’t written by a ‘hack’ but the chief exec of the women’s sport and fitness foundation. It’s the hacks who were responsible for the fact that not a single woman was nominated for sports personality of the year last year, despite several having exceeded the achievements of some of the men who were nominated.

  • Odd Hagenes

    It seems Sue Tibballs that you are talking about sports coverage in the UK in general and not the Olympics. The media coverage outside the UK seems quite balanced (maybe with the exception of the men’s 100 m final)

  • ExRSM

    The ladies have been the highlight of the Games. They combine athleticism with emotion, guts, determination and joy. I’m gettingon in age, but I have been deeply moved by all young women involved. Because BBC only shows British events except the Marathon and Usain Bolt, I have watched other events on France 24 and Russia today. It’s been wonderful. The men are good athletes, but especially in their dimissal of a silver when they wanted gold. The essence of the Games is to do your best and be gracious at your result. Here the ladies get gold!
    I am however deeply disturbed that one male British Cyclist boasted of having crashed deliberately. That one needs investigation and relegation.

  • Darren Anderson

    Blast, this article came along at just the wrong time- was about to submit a considered, insightful piece, “Women are just Window dressing at the Olympics”.

  • Razas

    Sexist rubbish

  • ExRSM

    Thanks, rastus

  • Razas

    Interesting response – presumably age does not equate to maturity or you would not resort to racist name calling.

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