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What legacy has the Olympics left for women’s sports?

Great Britain's 2016 women's Olympic hockey team celebrating their win. Source: The Independent
Great Britain’s 2016 women’s Olympic hockey team celebrating their win. Source: The Independent

Britain’s success at the Rio Olympics was an incredible feat by all of those involved, with both teams smashing their target totals. However, many cases of sexism came to light during the games, proving that sexism is still prevalent in many sports today. Is this what is holding women and girls back from becoming involved in sports?

Perhaps there are other reasons for this too. On the bus the other day I came across an article saying more women should get into cycling to be role models for younger girls. There’s nothing wrong with that I hear you cry – and in theory there isn’t, women should be role models. They should show girls that they can do anything they set their minds to. However, if you think about it for a minute, how easy is it to get into these sports? Personally, as a 20 year old female who would love to get into track cycling, I have no idea how I can get into the sport. I figure it’s rather difficult (please someone let me know otherwise!) as I don’t live near an Olympic velodrome; so no matter how much I have been inspired to get into sport – the resources just aren’t there.

Despite my qualms with resources and finding it hard to get into sport that you’ve been inspired by, there is still the larger problem of sexism in sport. While hearing an Olympic commentator comment on one female diver that “there’s not much of her,” my father pointed out that we’ve never heard such a comment made towards the male divers. The Olympics this year was, yet again, demonstrative of the sexism that is prevalent not only in Team GB, but on an international scale in sport. Who is fostering this sexism and why does it need to continue to obscure the success of our athletes?

There appeared to be a trend in this year’s Olympics with reporters and commentators making sexist remarks during the coverage of events. Many female athletes were compared to their male counterparts, rather than having their achievements recognised in their own right. Their achievements have often been recognised as a result of the male input in their careers. Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles of the US team were particularly strong athletes during the Olympics. Sadly, again, their achievements were overshadowed for a number of reasons. Conor Dwyer undermined Ledecky after saying that “Your morale goes down pretty quickly when you get broken by a female in practice.” Essentially, Mr Dywer believes it is bad to be beaten by Ledecky purely because she is a woman.

The BBC was rife with sexist comments that haven’t been acknowledged by the journalists. Chinese diver He Zi was proposed to by her boyfriend of 6 years. The BBC described it as an “even greater prize” than her silver medal (this has been corrected since the original article was published to ‘another prize’). Surely it’s her decision as to whether marriage is better than her achievement in sport, if they are even comparable. Another gaff occurred when John Inverdale interviewed double gold medallist Andy Murray, by asking how it felt to be the “first person to…” but luckily the tennis player corrected him in pointing out that the Williams sisters “have probably won four medals each.”

Arguably, John Inverdale should not have been allowed to commentate on this year’s Olympics, or any other future sporting events, after his comment on a female tennis player last year. He claimed that she “was never a looker” – showing that he cannot be capable of championing equality in sport. These are only a few examples of this year’s sexism in sport and there are countless others. Surely the sexism shown not only in this year’s Olympics and Paralympic games, but also in previous years would deter women from competing and being enthusiastic about sports. Something more needs to be done concerning the media and how they report on these major sporting events.

So what can we do? Certainly the media needs to be stricter with the way in which sexism is dealt with when a commentator makes unnecessary remarks – an example needs to be set. However, I’m not sure there is a definite answer to help more women get into sports, certainly more resources need to be made far more accessible. Despite the remarkable performance from female Olympians at this year’s games, it is difficult to know whether the Olympics, and its coverage, have left a positive impact on women’s sport.