With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics finally underway after the COVID-19-related postponement, event organizers have one message they are committed to driving home to spectators watching the Summer Games: women athletes don’t deserve to be sexualized or treated differently than their male counterparts.
Graham Dunbar of the Associated Press reported that this year marks the biggest effort ever in Olympic history for broadcasters to curb and eliminate overly sexualized images of female athletes.
Instead, the mantra of Olympic officials has become “sports appeal, not sex appeal,” as part of ongoing efforts to “reach gender equity on the field of play and on-screen.”
In an interview with the press detailing his organization’s ongoing efforts for equal treatment and coverage of the sexes, Olympic Broadcasting Services Chief Executive Yiannis Exarchos said, “you will not see in our coverage some things that we have seen in the past, with details and close-up on parts of the body.”
Instead, Exarchos said all male and female athletes will be covered exactly the same, in a fair and non-sexualized way.
“What we can do is to make sure that our coverage does not highlight or feature in any particular way what people are wearing,” he said.
According to Dunbar, part of the International Olympic Committee’s ongoing efforts in this area includes a newly updated series of rules and regulations for coverage of athletes called the “Portrayal Guidelines,” designed to “steer all Olympic sports and their rights holders toward ‘gender-equal and fair’ broadcasts of their events.”
Suggestions within the new broadcast guidelines include instructions to camera operators to refrain from unnecessary coverage of “clothing or intimate body parts,” a specific lack of focus on athlete “looks,” and efforts to respect the integrity of the athlete by “reframing or deleting” accidental wardrobe malfunctions.
Although the IOC does not control uniform rules for specific sports, Exarchos says the Olympic Broadcasting Services’ new rules will make a difference this year because they have control of all the images captured and broadcasted during the games, as well as the feed of cameras shared by press outlets all around the world.
“We in media have not yet done all that we can do,” Exarchos added, saying that while there was progress, there was also room for more improvement.
In an interview with the AP, Naoko Imoto recalled the sexist coverage she experienced swimming as part of Team Japan in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“It’s really biased when it comes to gender,” she said. “Many of the channels look at female athletes [as] girls or wives or mothers and not really as pure athletes. Most of [the cover] also really gives attention to the looks saying … they are beautiful or sexy.”
Even before this year’s Olympics started, the move to desexualize women steadily gained steam. In Germany, the national women’s gymnastics team adopted a new uniform, wearing unitards that covered their legs to their ankles. Elsewhere, Norway’s women’s beach handball team has repeatedly refused to wear the sport’s standard skimpy bikini bottoms, opting instead for longer spandex shorts, similar to those the men’s team typically wears.