London 2012 offers a unique opportunity to promote women’s participation in sports and inspire a next generation of female Olympians. Breaking down the lazy stereotype that competition and physical prowess are inherently masculine traits is essential.
In the words of Jacques Rogge, President of the IOC:
“For the first time in Olympic history all the participating teams will have female athletes. This is a major boost for gender equality.”
But there is a real risk this opportunity to advance equality will be lost.
It was inspiring to see women from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei join their male compatriots at the opening ceremony for the first time ever. But the depressing lack of seats sold for women’s events means that they, and many other female competitors, are lacking the exposure and support they deserve.
The inclusion of women in all national teams is a critical step, so too is the opening up of traditionally ‘macho’ Olympian sports like boxing, but without audiences that equal those for the male equivalent of their events there is a risk women will be seen as second class Olympians.
• Why is there such little coverage of women’s sport? 24 Jan 2011
Great Britain’s female Olympians have consistently closed the gap on their male colleagues and regularly punch above their weight in terms of numbers of competitors-to-medal ratio. They brought us our first gold of 2012 and our football team defied odds to defeat Brazil. Yet silver meddalist Lizzie Armistead has complained at the lower profile and lack of investment in women’s sports.
How can we expect the media to cover women’s sports equally to men’s when the most cursory glance at the Logoc tickets website and the audiences for women’s sports show such inequality in interest?
Aside from beach volleyball (!), sales for women’s events have largely undersold against men’s. It seems the more traditionally masculine a sport the truer this is - unsurprsingly there are plenty of tickets left for female weightlifting but none left for men’s.
Thankfully, there’s something lots of us can do about this. Something that sends a direct message to Team GB’s female Olympians as well as women across the globe who have come to compete here. Something that shows the media that there is interest and a demand for coverage of women’s sports.
It’s very simple: if you want to see some amazing sportswomen competing at the top of their game head here to the Locog website, look for the sports you like and search for women’s events. Join in the Olympics spirit, soak up the atmosphere of the stunning venues and see women breaking records and pushing themselves to achieve day after day.
I for one am revelling in the rennaissance of women’s football and and will be heading along to the final at Wembley Stadium in the hope of seeing Team GB make it there. But whether they do or not, simply having packed stadia for women’s events is a clear sign that their skills and abilities are held in equal measure to men’s.
London 2012 has really upped the game for women’s participation in sport and so many Team GB sportswomen have received excellent coverage that many of their colleagues across the globe could only envy. We should do the right thing by them and other women competitors by being there and cheering them on as they go faster, higher and stronger than ever before.
A wider change in attitude to sportswomen cannot be achieved top-down, it needs to come from ordinary audience members and sports fans. The media will report what is popular so let’s make steps to a real cultural shift. The onus is on us, no-one else.
Let’s show Team GB and the world that this really is the Olympics to ‘boost gender equality’.