Sports coverage plays an important role in shaping gender norms and stereotypes and promoting new positive, diverse role models. However, there are still some fundamental differences in how sportswomen and women’s sport are portrayed in comparison to that of men.
Aside from having less exposure and therefore less visibility, sportswomen receive coverage which has a tendency to focus on non-sport related characteristics, such as physical appearance, clothing and personal lives and to have their achievements marked by their gender or gender role.
Guidelines to place the focus on sport
To address this important issue, and recognising that the Olympic Games are a unique and powerful platform to showcase athletes from all over the world, the IOC has published Portrayal Guidelines for gender-equal, fair and inclusive representation.
Released in 2018 and updated in 2021, the Guidelines include:
- Key terms to know and why portrayal in sport is important
- Practical suggestions and examples of how to overcome bias across the various aspects of portrayal
- Checklists to facilitate implementation across all forms of media and communication
The Guidelines are aimed at sports leaders, communicators, content creators and media, and highlight the ways in which we can all help to shift how women and marginalised groups are seen and how they see themselves. They call for gender-equal and fair representation of sportspeople in all their diversity in all forms of media and communication across the Olympic Games and throughout the Olympic Movement to ensure sports content and communication are more inclusive, balanced and representative of the world we live in today.
Portrayal is one of the five focus areas of the IOC’s Gender Equality and Inclusion strategic framework.
The IOC defines portrayal as follows:
The language (words and expressions), images and voices used, the quality and quantity of coverage and the prominence given, when depicting individuals or groups in communications and the media.
Portrayal in sport checklist
The IOC firmly believes women’s and men’s events are of equal importance, and this should be reflected in their treatment. It’s therefore important to show and celebrate sporting journeys and achievements – irrespective of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation – with the same passion, respect and consistency throughout the year, and beyond Olympic cycles.
To facilitate the implementation of best practices, the IOC has compiled this checklist, which includes five key points.
What can sports organisations do?
With the increased visibility that comes with the Olympic Games and major sports events, there is a prime opportunity for sports organisations to strive for a more balanced and fair representation of sportspeople in all their diversity. The IOC has compiled 10 initiatives that sports organisations can consider undertaking to facilitate gender-balanced coverage.
REPLAY “Portrayal: removing gender bias and achieving gender balance”
Watch Barbara Slater, BBC Sport Director and member of the IOC Women in Sport Commission, and Katrina Adams, Vice-President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Chair of the ITF Gender Equality in Tennis Committee, discuss their experiences as sportswomen and the initiatives their respective organisations have taken to contribute to more gender-equal portrayal and coverage in sport, as well as what should be done in the future. This webinar was part of the IOC’s Gender Equality Webinar Series for International Sport Federations held in September 2020.
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