Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Italian Women's Television Coverage and Audience during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Italian Women's Television Coverage and Audience during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games

Article excerpt

This study aimed at determining the amount of Italian television coverage dedicated to men's and women's sport and the number of male and female viewers during the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. A UDITEL-A GB Nielsen Media Research Italia provided the TV airtime data for the sport events broadcast, which were classified into three categories: men-only, women-only, and mixed-gender. The viewer sample was divided by age and gender and included three audience parameters: mean audience, share, and appreciation index. The last item is calculated from the program duration, audience permanence, and the share related to programs broadcast by other Italian channels. In particular, the appreciation index was used to investigate the relationship between (a) the viewer's and sport participants' gender and (b) the effect of Italian participation and expectations for sport achievement. The data showed that Italian male athletes outnumbered their female counterparts. Women's sport was allotted significantly less airtime than men's sport, but this imbalance was not proportional to the gender difference in the overall athletes' participation in the Games. Although the female audience represented 45 % of the total, a significantly higher male mean audience and share were found. On the other hand, the appreciation of men's and women's sport events was balanced after equating for differences in media coverage. Moreover sport achievement might have a positive effect on the trend toward equality of gender coverage, indicating that a global multisport event such as the Olympic Games is central to communicating a national image and identity independently of the athletes' gender.

Key words: gender coverage, Olympics, women's sport

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Recently, women's sport has received international recognition to reduce existing economic, social, and cultural inequities between men and women in sport (European Parliament, 2003; European Women & Sport, 2000, 2004; International Olympic Committee [IOC], 2000, 2004; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 2000). In this framework, the Olympic Games promote female participation in sport activities and publicize their achievements (International Olympic Committee, 2000; Vincent, Imwold, Masemann, &Johnson, 2002). In particular, the IOC has required the National Olympic Committees (NOC) to increase female athletes' participation (Atlanta 1996 = 34%, Sydney 2000 = 38%, Athens 2004 = 41%) and the number of women serving on their executive boards (1998: n = 98; 2000: n =130; 2002: n = 145). Additionally, the IOC has promoted higher international recognition of women (first-time female IOC vice-president), increased the number of events in the Olympic women's program (Atlanta 1996 = 40%, Sydney 2000 = 44%, Athens 2004 = 45%) with only three gender-specific sports (boxing: men-only; rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming: women-only), and designed Olympic programs in which male and female events receive equal prominence. However, this international policy is not automatically reflected at the local level. In fact, the percentage of Italian female athletes in the national team showed a 2% decrease from 1996 (30%) to 2000 (28%). Furthermore, few Italian women (4-9%) held a technical post (official, coach, medical doctor, physical therapist, staff) and only men served as president of the National Sport Federations.

Another approach to gender equality in sport relates to media coverage. Recently, considerable attention has been paid to the relationship among sport, media, and gender in contemporary culture (Tomlinson, 2002). In particular, television plays a relevant role in the promotion and delivery of different sports to local consumers, thus, establishing a powerful commercial alliance among star athletes, corporations, and the broadcasting network (Messner, Dunbar, & Hunt, 2000). Although sport participation among women has increased, quantitative data show an underrepresentation of female athletes in several countries (Duncan, Messner, Williams, &Jensen, 1990, 1994; Eastman & Billings, 2000; Lines, 2000; Messner, Duncan, & Wachs, 1996). …

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