With the Olympics done and dusted; Jamie Gilbert Smith, managing director at M&C Saatchi Sports and Entertainment, and Nicky Bryson, senior strategist M&C Saatchi, have written a joint opinion piece on the gender equality issues raised during the games and what brands now need to be doing to keep the conversation alive.
The Olympic games has always been a platform for change, more pointedly equality. It’s played a significant role in breaking equal rights among races and more recently disability. So, with more women than men representing Australia we thought 2016 would be the year we’d see the Olympics as a platform for addressing gender equality in sport.
How wrong we were. There were many frustrations with these games but it was the on going examples of the male hegemony throughout the coverage that shocked many. Despite their success and record-breaking displays of athleticism, female athletes all over were disproportionately described in relation to their marital status, parenthood, age or appearance.
As the world’s greatest female gymnasts talked between medal feats the NBC claimed that “They might as well be standing around at the mall.”
“They might as well be standing around at the mall” says the announcer of the world’s greatest female gymnasts talking to each other. ?
— Robin Roemer (@robinshoots) August 7, 2016
The Chicago Tribune headlined a story about a three-time Olympian who won the bronze medal in shooting, without mentioning her name, but calling her the “wife of a Bears’ lineman.”
— Laura Keeney (@LauraKeeney) August 8, 2016
The BBC referred to women’s judo as a “cat fight” and NBC gave the credit of Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu’s gold medal success to her husband and coach… because of course behind every great female athlete there is a great guy responsible.
Getting ready to catch up on my DVR of NBC’s “Women Aren’t People” Olympics coverage.
— Nick Rees (@fakenickrees) August 8, 2016
So if sport is a metaphor for society, one that reflects and reinforces our values is this the example we want to set?
While the Australian media successfully avoided large gaffes they weren’t without fault. And yes while we celebrate equality among the team it became glaringly obvious that we have bigger leaps to make toward addressing an attitude of ‘less-than’ that is still woven into our female sports narrative.
If the currency of this perception comes from the media and commercial world, that’s a good place to start.
An Australian Sports Commission report found that male sport receives 81 per cent of TV coverage compared to just 7 per cent for women and that 7 per cent is down from 11 per cent a decade ago. To put this in context, horse racing received more airtime than women’s sport in Australian TV news last year. So what’s our excuse? We can’t argue women aren’t as successful, in reality they are our better performers.
In Beijing 2008 Australian women won 58 per cent of the medal haul, at London 2012, 20 of the 35 medals were won by women and in 2016 women won 62 per cent of Australia’s Gold Medals. Australian women have also won seven of Australia’s 12 winter Olympic medals. We can’t argue there isn’t interest. Participation in female competition is increasing across the country and across codes. From traditionally female sports such as soccer and netball to women’s cricket, rugby league, rugby union and AFL there has been increases across the board.
In Australia 39 per cent of women are interested in sport on TV. 64 per cent are interested in Tennis. 46 per cent are interested in Cricket. Yes, that perceived bastion of aging men has a potential audience of 5.6 million Australian women.
So why then are women missing out on corporate sponsorships and the media attention they so importantly require? If commercialism can deliver greater exposure, than seeing more female athletes in the media and more women in sport can deliver much wider benefits. Female athletes are great role models, not only to young girls but to boys too, and husbands, partners and brothers. What will the trickle-down effect be of a society where girls and women see a sky without limits? And how will this change what little boys believe about girls growing up? Young people, boys and girls, get to grow up seeing that women can lead, that they can be coaches and star athletes.
Today’s little girls will grow up knowing they are complete human beings, equal to and possessing the same innate dignity and value as any boy or man. Will young girls of the future be subjected to sexism if she chooses a professional life in sport? Or will she grow up knowing she can be a boxer, a cricketer or a soccer player, a journalist or presenter like the ones she watches on TV, sees in the stadiums or on the back of cereal packets?
While we know corporate consciousness has increased we certainly don’t live in an altruistic commercial world. The good news is that beyond being good corporate citizens, brands and business can be reassured that there are huge commercial benefits at play.
Globally, women control $20 trillion in consumer spending and represent a growth market more than twice as big as China and India combined. In Australia women make 80per cent of purchasing decisions. Big movers are taking note. Under Armour recently dropped $15 million on its female empowerment campaign. Nike embarked on its largest and most integrated women’s campaign to date ‘Better for it’. The company forecasts its Nike Women business to reach $11 billion in revenue by 2020, compared to $5.7 billion today.
It’s time women were considered athletes first, given the same opportunities, recognition and funding of their male equivalents and most importantly, that they no longer be treated as a less-than version of men. While the Olympics have fuelled the conversation let’s not wait another four years to continue it. The appetite is there, the interest is there, and the potential commercial returns are there. We just need the investment. Not only will the brands and media who jump in quick reap first mover benefits commercially, but if brands of today are increasingly focusing on social responsibility than surely this one of the most culturally relevant causes they can pursue?