Reporting on the Olympics: a game on its own?

This year the number of female athletes for Team USA competing in the Olympics outnumber the guys. That’s great news for women who have been advocating for equal rights in the sports world.

However, even in 2016, it seems to me that we are far from equal rights and equal treatment when it comes to women and sports: in the way the public treats women, how the press talks about them and how the Sports organizations pay them.

When swimmer Katinka Hosszú won gold for Hungary and broke a world record in the 400-meter IM, NBC’s Dan Hicks remarked that her coach and husband was ‘the man responsible’ for her win. Could be just me, but I thought Katinka was actually the one responsible for her superb swimming?

Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won the bronze medal in trap shooting was referred to in The Chicago Tribune mostly as ‘wife of Bears lineman Mitch Unrein. While this might have been used as a ‘fun fact’, I don’t think it was necessary to describe the husband’s training schedule and his achievement in his sport. Remember, we were talking about a bronze medal winner in the Olympics here, not about the husband of?

The US women’s gymnastics team was described as a group who ‘might as well be standing in the middle of a mall’, strong female swimmers are described as ‘the female Michael Phelps’.

The UK’ s Cambridge University Press recently conducted a study which has looked at the way we talk about men and women in sport. It turns out that when talking about male athletes, the press looks at performance, while when it comes to female athletes, appearance, marital status and age seem to be more frequently discussed than their actual sporting performance.

The US women’s soccer team fought hard for equal pay, but get paid a lower per diem at the Olympics then the men. ($60 versus $75: do they expect men to eat more?)

For years when we lived in the Netherlands, my husband would come home early in the summer to watch the Tour de France, broadcasted live on public television and also reported on the radio. I asked him why women didn’t bike in the Tour and he answered that there is indeed a tour for women cyclist. However, this was not broadcasted live on TV or radio: with a bit of luck you might read about it on the bottom of the sports page in the paper, if there wasn’t any other ‘man’ sport going on. In fact, it was due to lack of funding and publicity that this initiative died in 2009. For the past two years a small group of women has biked the entire tour a day ahead of the men just to prove that women can bike too.

Why is it, that in 2016 women and girls still have to fight for their equal rights and why is sport still a ‘man-business’?

My daughter went to a British soccer camp last week. With her short hair and her soccer outfit, it might be hard to tell she is a girl and her unusual Dutch name doesn’t give it away either.


She loves playing soccer and being a confident girl, it didn’t really bother her that the rest of her team mates thought she was a boy. Until they discovered she was not, and they started to treat her differently. “Why mama?” she asked me. I honestly couldn’t answer her. The coaches, who were staying with me, tried to help me out. “It’s just because they didn’t realize girls can be awesome soccer players as well.” (insert cute British accent here).

But why are boys this young (the kids in her camp were between seven and twelve years old) surprised to see a girl play soccer (and do it fairly well, I proudly add)? Is it because that’s what they see on TV when their parents are watching sport?

In a discussion with my husband, he said that in all fairness it also had something to do with the commercial value: if people only watch ‘men’ sports, women sports will not generate enough income and therefore women get paid less. I feel this is a chicken and egg situation: women sports can only become more watched if they are more broadcasted, but only will get broadcasted if they generate income for the big networks. Soccer is a great example how this can turn around, as the networks started broadcasting the women team more and more, because they were very successful while the men weren’t. Now women soccer is much more popular in the US, however the athletes still have to fight for their rights.

I don’t think my daughter will be a professional soccer player, but I hope my girl keeps being confident about how she looks and how she is perceived in the Big World out there.

And who knows, by the time the Winter Olympics are being broadcasted, the MC’s and big networks learned their lessons and will take home the gold for reporting on both men and women athletes in equal ways!


Edith Schriever

About Edith Schriever

I am a Maine-igrant from the Netherlands. While my scientist husband fell in love with the beautiful research institute here, I fell in love with Mount Desert Island. Mountains, ocean, wild life, peace and quiet! A culture change? Yes, a bit. Americans are not at all like the Jerry Springer audience I saw on TV when living in the Netherlands, well, at least not everyone. Portions are big and toilets small and low; I have learned to embrace the cultural differences.