Olympic Sexism And How to Deal With It

I’ve just been talking on BBC Newcastle with Anna Foster about the level of sexist reporting at the Olympic Games. There’s been heaps in the papers over the last few days so its been hot topic on Twitter. I agree that to denigrate a woman’s genuine achievement at winning the highest accolade in sport is out of place in today’s world. It’s unfair. It is also faintly ridiculous. Women are doing breathtakingly well on their own merit and deserve all the coverage and respect to mark their special moment in the sun.

However, by over-reacting to ever bit of banter and oafish criticism is probably not the best way to go.  Part of the legacy of an athlete is their ability to focus, to remove themselves from daily distractions and to mentally rise above the common herd.  That’s part of the reason we admire their accomplishments. Its not just that they can run faster, throw further, or tackle someone twice their size on a rugby pitch, but the discipline and stoicism they display is what we crave in our every day lives. Their unruffled demeanor becomes part of their legend. Therefore to complain about some ill-informed sexist reporSEXISM AT THEting could actually do their reputation more damage than to let it roll.

Women are garnering a huge new fan base at the moment because of their superb results and we don’t want to undermine that freshness by entering into the world of PC hypersensitivity over it.

To complain that Jason Kenny didn’t show enough excitement over fiancee Laura Trott’s medal is taking things surely a tad too far.   Surely most of the viewing public would react to the “what’s for tea comment” like I did. Part of their “backstory” is their love affair and the comfortable rhythm they have with one another.  That simple statement said reams, but not reams of sexism.  Just something rather lovely.

And what about the constant reference to swimmer Dana Vollmer being a “new mum”.  Again, not in my book “sexist”,  just fact. I would think there could be nothing more inspirational in this day and age when women are balancing (as they always have done) work and family, to have an example of someone who has achieved just that on the world stage to boot. Well done.

Yes there has been some silly trivial reporting about athletes and make up, but probably much of that flowing from the spirit of the entertainment of the games. The ones that were genuinely sexist don’t dignify writing about.  In fact I would think that the commentators who made them will have suffered far more by their Twitter barrage than the athlete!

Overall the incidents that advanced women’s cause have been many so far. When BBC presenter John Inverdale said to Andy Murray, “You’re the first person to ever win two Olympic tennis gold medals, that’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” and he corrected him by pointing out that Venus and Serena had won about four each, was terrific.  He fought their corner and corrected the huge oversight as so many modern informed men and women do daily in a light and effective way.

I was also struck by just how many happy partnerships or relationships there seem to be in the sporting world which can only be an advantage to being a professional athlete.

Also what a great spirit of camaraderie appears to have been part of these Rio games.  These are the memories to savour and build on and hopefully we will have more  of this to enjoy before the finale.


About Louise Burfitt-Dons

Writer and social critic
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