As the flame extinguishes in Rio after Team GB’s most successful Olympics ever, the media coverage of the games is far from winning gold.
Over the course of the two week games, celebrations and success have dominated the headlines as the nation cheered on their favourite athletes, as they top the score board – often in the early hours to win gold (27 with 67 medals in total!).
Yet why in 2016 has this felt like the most, misogynistic, sexist and gender stereotype-perpetuating Olympic Games ever?
— Fawcett Society (@fawcettsociety) August 22, 2016
In the first week, BBC presenter Helen Skelton gained a mass of criticism with the shorts and playsuits she wore to present live coverage of the swimming, in an arena that was reaching 30 degree heat. Despite her male co-host wearing shorts every day with no one complaining.
Blatant double standards came soon after when Gary Linkeker presented BBC’s Match of the Day Live in his underwear, and was criticised for ‘not showing enough skin’.
— SAM (@The_Optics) August 14, 2016
It begs the question if Helen had been a male presenter, would the same outcry have been made?
Helen was not the only female to come under scrutiny in the Olympic games – athletes themselves were at the centre of negative commentary from across the globe. This sadly happened even before the flame was lit at the Maracanã Stadium.
On the first day of the games, Cambridge University Press released a study of the language used when men and women are mentioned in sport. Not only were men three times more likely to be mentioned than women in relation to sport, but adjectives such as “fastest”, “strong”, “big”, “real”, and “great” were attributed to men.
Women on the other hand had to settle for “married”, “older”, “pregnant”, “aged”, and of course, “unmarried”. This is of course was legitimised when Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu gained a world record in the 400m individual medley to win gold, NBC commentators showed a live reaction to husband and coach declaring “and there’s the man responsible.”
— GEARR (@GEARR_OU) August 15, 2016
The list continues: USA star Katie Ledecky broke a world record but was given a considerably smaller print headline in comparison to Phelps’ second place. USA star Simone Biles who walked away with five medals was constantly compared to previous Olympic champions – specifically male Olympic Champions.
This did not deter the 19-year-old, as she responded in the best way possible:
— Brian Wayne Johnson (@BWJohnsonMusic) August 12, 2016
It wasn’t just women who received offensive media coverage while at the games.
Britain’s Jack Laugher and Chris Mears were at the forefront of homophobic remarks reinforcing stereotypical ideas of gender, seconds after the pair dived to gold in the 3m springboard.
As the nation cheered and jumped, the Daily Mail believed the two men who won should have resorted to a “manly pat on the back”. Of course, a bombardment of Tweets came in thick and fast in support of the British duo.
Apparently hugging is not very ‘manly’. This backward view of gender behaviour and casual homophobia has to stop. pic.twitter.com/nuJl1RCMxd
— WayneDavid (@WayneDavid81) August 11, 2016
Why are two men, who have just won gold after years and years of training, being told to calm down?
Football players do this every time their team scores a goal. Is it because they are in speedos? Or was it because two physically defined physiques touching is offensive?
Whatever the reason, the Daily Mail has since changed the article and removed all offensive headlines.
If these ideas are perpetuated through the media, what will the affect be on the masses who have been glued to screen – what will they take away from this?
Misogynistic, sexist and homophobic media coverage perpetuates an attitude that deems it acceptable to belittle the achievements of a woman because her husband was her coach. It makes it unacceptable for two men to show emotion towards one another, and instead retain the outdated image that a man must reflect the straightfaced masculine image. It makes it okay for men to present a TV show almost naked, whilst a woman in a hot area cannot show her leg on a camera without a media frenzy reporting on her ‘revealing’ attire and how she is ‘showing off her legs’.
Similarly, if a woman wears a short dress to a nightclub, that doesn’t immediately mean she is asking for sexual attention. A person’s clothing choice does not determine the reactions of others.
It’s possible to continue and list all the issues raised at the Olympics due to sexist media coverage, but we should instead be focusing on the positive affects of the games and the influence these athletes can have on a growing generation.
The Oylmpics are a fantastic event that can bring a nation together and become passionate about sports they never knew existed.
It is with a sigh of disappointment that in 2016 the media coverage has perpetuated a very aged opinion and is not a true reflection of the times we are living in. The media must embrace equality if these Olympians are to inspire a new generation of athletes.
As Rio returns to its regular routine, the world looks four years in the future to Tokyo 2020. Let’s hope Team GB can repeat history and the media can learn from it.