The IOC’s press committee says there is “a need to take firm, immediate and accountable actions” to further develop gender equality within the accredited press and reporting.
An independent gender-balance working group has made a series of recommendations to the committee having looked at the portrayal in the media of women’s sports and female athletes.
There is a major gender disparity with sports journalists applying to cover an Olympic Games. At Rio 2016, around 20 per cent of accredited journalists were female and that figure drops to 15 per cent when it comes to photographers.
Then there is the ‘unconscious bias’ of how sport is reported. For instance, research has shown that an elite medal-winning female athlete is far more likely to be asked about marital status, appearance and age than her male counterpart. Male journalists have a tendency to use ‘girls’ to describe a women’s team but ‘men’ for a men’s team.
India skipper Mithali Raj had the perfect response when she was asked to name her favourite male player at this year’s women’s cricket World Cup: “Would you ask a male player that?”
Britain’s Andy Murray, a vocal supporter of women’s rights on and off the tennis court, has been equally adept at spotting bias. Here is his response to a badly thought-out question regarding the last American tennis player to reach the semi-final of Wimbledon.
The working group highlighted examples of how women’s sporting achievements were often reported through the prism of a man’s viewpoint. Reference was made to the #covertheathlete campaign on YouTube which showed elite men being asked the sort of questions usually aimed at elite women.
The press committee met in Switzerland last week. UK-based Thomson Reuters global sports editor Ossian Shine is a member as is Jayne Pearce, press chief at London 2012 and CEO of Pearce International, which was responsible for media operations at Rugby World Cup 2015 and the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London. Pearce was also recognised for her 30 years in press operations.
The next step is to present a list of proposals to the executive board for approval and ratification in December. Suggestions include pre-Games social media campaigns in a bid to raise wider awareness of the gender issues on and off the field of play.
More immediately, there is a meeting with UNESCO to discuss sports media and gender equity at the end of this month.
Also on the agenda, gender-neutral style recommendations to the IOC’s existing style guide and a section on gender-neutral reporting as part of the press attache training ahead of the winter Games in PyeongChang.
Olympic Information Service reporters in Korea and young reporters at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires will also be trained in gender-neutral reporting. The IOC have led the way with the Young Reporter programme, insisting on a 50-50 gender split since its inception.
Athletes and coaches at the Youth Games will also have a specific component of gender-neutral reporting for athletes and coaches’ media training.
The committee also hope to develop initiatives to promote press organisations including a higher percentage of female reporters, editors and photographers within their teams for the Olympic Games. The IOC will publish the breakdown of male/female reporters and photographers by accreditation category.
In addition IOC media operations, under head Anthony Edgar, will share the committee’s initiatives and proposals with sporting international federations and counterparts at national association level.
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