(Not) Higher, Stronger or Swifter: Representation of Female Olympic Athletes in the Israeli Press

Article excerpt


Despite the IOC declaration of intent for gender equality in sport and in light of the fact that a greater number of women are participating in the Olympic Games covert connotations are hidden behind the distorted and biased image presented of female athletes in the press. The current study asks whether the size and extent of coverage really matter; does more extensive coverage necessarily mean equal and true representation of women in sport, or are we getting more of the same? The findings in this study indicate two parallel processes in terms of article content: First, the greater the number of articles, the more stereotypical and biased the content becomes. Secondly, over the years, representation of female athletes has become increasingly negative and biased. Over the three Olympic Games examined (1996, 2000, 2004), female athletes were presented in a biased and stereotypical ways in relative to male athletes. The change in coverage over the years has proven to be a tendency to stereotypically present female athletes in a more negative light in comparison to male athletes.

Keywords: Gender, Sport, Israel, Press, Olympic Games

Female Participation in the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games represent one of the most significant events in the world of sport, yet injustice and inequality towards female participation has not eluded them. Social and cultural changes that have taken place in the past and present have been reflected by the Games, including changes in the role and status of women (Lee, 1992). Since their start in 1896 and up until current competitions, the history of the modern Olympic Games has marked a series of changes in the participation of women - from rejection and limitation to their inclusion in practically every sports branch (Vincent, 2000). In recent decades and especially during the 1990s women activities in the Games' organization and management have also widened. Thus, for example, more and more women have reached senior positions in sports organizations and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and are serving as members in various sports committees (e.g. Anita DeFrantz, who was appointed Vice-President of the IOC in 1997). Sports competitions in the Olympic Games similarly illustrate the changes that have taken place in the attitude towards female athletes (Bernstein, 2002), as the number of sports branches, events and competitions for women within the Olympic Games framework has consistently increased (IOC Report, 2005). In the 2000 Sydney Games, for instance, women accounted for 38% of all the participants (in comparison to 34% in the 1996 Atlanta Games), and they competed in a record number of 118 sport events out of a total of 300. One of the initiatives that has contributed to the increase in the number of female athletes and the number of events for women was the IOC's declaration in 2000 to fully recognize equality between men and women in the Olympic Games (ibid, 2005). Consequently, an additional increase in the participation of female athletes in the Olympic Games occurred in the 2004 Athens Games (some 44% of all participants). Undoubtedly, major strides were taken in the 20th century to integrate women in sport and to participate in the Olympic Games. Yet, despite increased participation of female athletes in sports, in general, and in the Olympic Games, in particular, female athletes are still struggling for gender equality within the field (Capranica and Aversa, 2002; Coakley, 2009; Crolley and Teso, 2007; DeFrantz, 2000; Eastman and Billings, 1999,2000; Messner et. al. 2003).

Extent of Media Coverage of Female Athletes

Sport fans, a significant media consumer audience, are exposed to a wide coverage of various sport events through different types of media. It has been argued that the coverage of sport events clearly discriminates between male athletes and their female counterparts. The meager coverage of female athletes until the 1990's is illustrative of their absence from the media. …