Alright, let’s start with a good dose of the truth. Aside from the equine world, I am not a year-round sports enthusiast. I don’t have cable and I have never watched TSN, other than the extremely rare occasions when they filled time with an equestrian event. I don’t normally care about volleyball or rowing, and had to find out what trap shooting was.
All that being said, every two years, be it the summer or the winter games, I love the Olympics. There is something wonderful in what I can only describe as the ‘human triumph’ of it all.
Having worked for the captain of the Canadian Equestrian Team (a lifetime ago), I have glimpsed the hard work, sacrifice, skill, dedication and healthy dose of luck that it takes to be one of the athletes vying for a medal.
Olympic athletes have lived away from family, often had to choose training over social life, learned how to work through the pain, and have found a focus and determination in themselves that I likely won’t ever possess. I admire and salute their dedication, and support and cheer for every single one of them. Medals or not, they are all champions.
They are all – men and women – a rare breed of human and athlete.
Oh. And more importantly, did you know a bunch of the girls are really pretty?
Listening to and watching Olympic commentary has been, in most instances, exciting and informative. But, with only approximately only 21 per cent of sports broadcasters being female, coverage and commentary surrounding this year’s summer Olympic Games is decidedly male dominated.
But this is 2016 after all, and we’ve had lots of time, us journalist types, to hone our skills and we’ve learned how to view all athletes equally, right? To quote the mic drop of PM Justin Trudeau… ‘It’s 2016’. But 2016 or not, you don’t have to scratch the surface too hard to find that throughout these Olympic games we can see a strain of what can, at best, be described as casual sexism; and the games have only just started.
To what do I refer? Sadly, my points of reference are many. We can start with sports journalist Helen Skelton who dared – dared – to wear a knee-length dress while broadcasting from Rio. When she sat down, you could see her legs – no more than you could of her shorts-wearing male counterpart – and the Internet went wild.
Totally ignoring her succinct and informed coverage, talk simply revolved around her ‘naughty little number’ and asking if she had forgotten to put a skirt on. The Twittershpere went so wild in fact, that Skelton found she actually had to address the issue publicly.
One of the first lengthy, comprehensive articles to come across my Facebook news feed wasn’t one of an in-depth look at the swimming team, or any other team or athlete, but an article ranking the Top 10 best looking female athletes at the Games. And we deteriorate from there.
History was recently made at the Games, by gold medal winner Majlinda Kelmendi of Kosovo. Not only did she win the first ever medal for the county in the history of the Olympics, but she won gold. And a BBC commentator referred to the medal determining round in the most degrading manner of a ‘cat fight’, as though it wasn’t an Olympic medal round, but rather a stereotyped melee outside a tavern.
Meanwhile, American trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein won her second Olympic medal, a bronze, which was then reported by the Chicago Tribune as ‘Wife of Bears lineman wins a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics,” leaving her name and her sport, out altogether, essentially, attributing the importance of the medal to the name of her husband.
An NBC sportscaster sparked outrage when, upon witnessing Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu not only win the 400-meter individual medley, but break the world record doing so, immediately credit her husband with her success. As her coach, he is, yes, a big part of her win. But he wasn’t in the pool, and he didn’t do the training and he is not the athlete. But once again, Hosszu’s win and ability were immediately diminished by being attributed to her husband.
Luckily, it sent Twitter users into a meltdown and brought to light the total inappropriate nature of the comments.
NBC then went on to sully themselves further by referring to the USA women’s gymnastics team, who were trying to lighten their spirits having been soundly defeated during qualifying rounds, by describing them as ‘looking like they were hanging out at the mall.’ Because, as we all know, that’s really all girls do.
Now, I get it. Not everyone sees the problem here, and that’s why I referred to this as, in many cases, casual sexism.
But here’s the thing. Only days ago, the Cambridge University Press published the results of a study that showed that men are three times more likely to be referred to in a sporting context than women. Female athletes are still routinely referred to with reference to non-sporting descriptors, such as their age, marital status and appearance. And that, my friends, is good, ole fashioned sexism – whether you realize it or not.
And if you still don’t believe me, imagine the incredible athletic achievements of American swimming machine and medalist Micheal Phelps being described by referencing only his wife, his mother, his coach or his waist size and favourite holiday. If that doesn’t seem appropriate or sit well with you, or seem irrelevant to the fact that he is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, then it cannot be an acceptable manner in which to describe female athletes either.
Until we refer to all athletes, male or female, with the same language, that of sport and achievement – commenting on their training, hard work, results and their wins and losses in the same way, PM Trudeau may as well pick that mic right back up.