Sexism Runs Rampant At London Olympics 2012


The Olympic Games are a unifying global event featuring athletes from 204 countries of all creeds, religions, sexual orientations, and age groups. Despite the political issues that seep into the Games, notably Mitt Romney's skepticism of London's preparedness to host the games and a Greek star's dismissal because of a racist tweet, the Games have so far been successful in entertaining viewers around the globe. But the Olympics reveal an inherent disparity between male and female athletes that is prevalent in NBC's broadcast coverage of Olympic events according to arecently published study by researchers at the University of Delaware.

Science Daily reported on the study in June, writing that the results show that when female athletes succeed, commentators attribute their success to luck instead of physical ability; when they fail, their physical abilities are noted for being inferior. The inverse was found for males. When they succeeded, commentators lauded their skill and when they failed it was because their competitors were superior or had good luck. Additionally, the study found that NBC had a disproportionate amount of coverage on American athletes and often ignored medal winners when they were not American. 

Although this data was compiled from previous Olympic Games and the London Olympics have only just begun, there have already been several cases of sexism and male favoritism by the media. Britain's first medal winner was cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who said that women athletes face "overwhelming" sexism in unequal pay and less recognition. "The problem, as a female athlete, is that you don’t want to come across as negative and moaning. It’s difficult to change things in a positive way," she told the Telegraph. She said that the main issue facing women is lack of sponsorship. Major financiers prefer men's sports and competitions to women's and event organizers cannot pressure them towards one sport over another. 

The Japanese women's soccer team, Nadeshiko Japan, is a semi-professional group of athletes who clenched the World Cup in Germany in 2011 but were forced to fly economy to this summer's Games while the men's team flew first class. The last Olympic victory that the men's team had was in 1968. The women are not only better athletes but are older as well, and felt that they deserved equal seating by seniority. The Australian men's basketball team also flew first class while the women's team, the Opals, flew in economy seating; the women won silver medals in 2008 while the men won none. Meanwhile, an English female canoeist is challenging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for holding five men's canoeing events and only one for women. 

Not to mention that women's volleyball players must wear bikinis and sports bras while men are allowed to wear t-shirts; as the Reuters deftly noted, "they [female athletes] have to be sexy to get noticed but they are not taken seriously as sportswomen because they are sexy." ThinkProgress also had something to say about Thomas Delatte's Bleacher Report post about female athletes. The IOC only just modified its rule that female volleyball players must wear the teeny-tiny uniforms that make women's volleyball one of the most viewed events because of conservative countries that require women to be covered up. Modified rule or not, it should be up to the players, not to the IOC or their home country, on what they choose to wear to compete.. Whether they want to look good or feel good, whether they play better in a bikini or a sweatshirt is up to no one but that athlete – any other rule is extremely paternalistic and unjust. 

Furthermore, the IOC has also been getting a lot of criticism for testing female athletes for testosterone levels to determine whether they are actually female or male, thereby challenging their eligibility to participate in their event. The validity of basing athleticism and sex on testosterone has since been debated, but athletes who are XX-chromosome should compete in female competitions and those with XY-chromosome should compete in the male competitions, regardless of their body's particular chemical levels as long as there are no performance-enhancing chemicals present. The female athletes who have been subjected to this testing and discussion have been demoralized by an international organization, plus countless researchers and pundits discussing their bodily capability. 

Some athletes face sexism from the public itself and not from the IOC or NBC. Female weightlifter Zoe Smith, 18, had to shut down her Twitter account because of the sexist things that were posted about her like the tweet, “Your insecurities are kicking in lol. Now pi** off back to the kitchen and make your boyfriend a sandwich he’s hungry.”

What are the implications of these messages? NBC is not necessarily a sexist organization, nor is the IOC inherently sexist, nor are male commentators. But they are not treating all athletes equally –– or fairly. Female athletes have worked just as hard as their male peers to make it to the Olympics and deserve equal respect on and off the field. Old school sexism hasn't gone away; it's just been hidden more easily.