Women are not just window dressing for the Olympics
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 FoundationTagged in: beach volleyball, olympics, Sport, women
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