Women athletes have long been pushed to the side, if not ignored altogether. It is of the utmost importance that the Winter Olympics break this trend and gives female athletes the recognition and praise they rightfully deserve.
At the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, France, the female presence was almost nonexistent. “Among the 258 athletes lining up at the start … only 11 were female, all of them figure skaters,” according to The Guardian.
Since then, countries are sending more and more female athletes to the Olympics, likely partially due to more events opening to women. That being said, however, not all nations are following suit and extending gender equality to athletics.
“Three nations, Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, banned women from competing altogether until the 2012 Summer Games in London, and have yet to send a female athlete to the Winter Olympics,” as reported by The Guardian.
Perhaps the issue isn’t how many women are attending, nor how many events they are qualified to participate in, but rather, their placement within the Olympic lineup.
Female athletes are quite literally shuffled out of the way to make room for male athletes.
“Women have traditionally been kept off the schedule of the final day of the Winter Olympics (and don’t fare much better at the Summer Games),” according to The Star.
The importance of the final day of the Games has everything to do with the fact it falls on a weekend. Weekend events simply capture larger audiences and those events include the athletes that are remembered and celebrated more often.
“If women are not given equal scheduling opportunities there is inevitably less media exposure. And less media exposure unfortunately suggests women’s sport is less important,” as reported by The Star.
This year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics may be able to stop this pattern. The women’s 30-kilometer cross-country skiing event is scheduled to air on the final day of the Games, according to The Star. Perhaps this will be the beginning of a new trend, one that gives attention and respect to the more than deserving female athletes of the world.
Although there is great promise in this year’s Winter Olympics, women athletes will still be battling for equality once the Games are over and the world stops watching.
“When you look at how female athletes are being talked about, what we see from research is they are often referred to as girls rather than women … and there’s more focus on their appearance and their background stories, which tend to center on their connection to male coaches and their relationships with their families and husbands, or how they balance athleticism and motherhood,” according to an interview with Cheryl Cooky, an associate professor of American studies at Purdue University.
Reporters, commentators and fans should focus solely on female athletes’ physical accomplishments. Unfortunately, as with most successful women, rather than highlighting their individual achievements, the media tend to concentrate on the men in their lives that got them to that point.
No one would ask a male athlete about the impact his mother or wife had on his career, and rightfully so. Women athletes should be given the same respect as their male counterparts.
These 2018 Winter Olympic Games have the opportunity to be a turning point for women in athletics. If we can manage to treat women the way we treat male athletes and give them the credit they deserve, perhaps those ideals will carry into athletics after the Olympics.
Female athletes are just as strong, talented and hard-working as male athletes. They must be treated as such.