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How should female athletes be portrayed?

Ashley Abbott from the New Zealand Olympic Committee (R) with Kaori Yamaguchi, chair of Women’s committee NOC Japan. (Photo: AFLO/NOC Japan)
by Hiroshi Takeuchi, AIPS EC Member

TOKYO, September 13, 2018 - The Japan Sports Press Association and the Japanese Olympic Committee co-hosted their annual Sports Journalist Seminar in the second week of September. Ms. Ashley Abbott from the New Zealand Olympic Committee who is also a member of the Press Committee of the International Olympic Committee made the keynote speech titled “Portrayal in sports media, what do we say and think about female athletes”, followed by the panel discussion focusing on the gender equity mind of the Japanese sports media.

Prior to the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games, the IOC published the Gender Portrayal Guidelines. It states that it is a crucial step to avoid gender bias and stereotypes in the portrayal of women and men on the path towards gender equality in all areas of life. It also stresses that it is necessary to be sensible to gender and that careful attention to gender portrayal should be factored in tone, style, language and imagery when packaging editorial content.

Ms. Abbott pointed out that it is not appropriate if you choose words like sexy, flowing hair, sparkling, gorgeous, girls and beautiful when portraying female athletes. She said she has found numerous female athletes stories with describing their spouses and children, on the other hand she has seldom found the male athletes stories with their spouses and children. “Female athletes should be portrayed as much on their sporting side as male athletes are,” she said.

In the panel discussion Mr. Fujio Kariya, who is working for the public channel NHK and one of the most experienced TV sports commentators in Japan said, “We time to time comment by saying unconsciously a swimming beauty for a good looking female swimming athlete. We might have been too innocent with regard to gender balance and perhaps we have not payed adequate attention on choosing words when portraying female athletes.”

“It is quite an eye-opener to learn it today,” he added.

Ms. Abbott encouraged all attendees by saying, “I am very happy to know that this seminar can help in generating momentum to develop the gender equality awareness further in Japan. I am convinced that the Tokyo Olympic Games will be the best chance to foster this conscience.”

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