Broadcasters take action against sexualisation of female Olympians

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·Sports Editor
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Switzerland's Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich, pictured here in action in beach volleyball.
Switzerland's Anouk Verge-Depre and Joana Heidrich in action in beach volleyball at the Olympics. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

The head of broadcasting at the Tokyo Olympics has announced a crackdown on overly sexualised images of female athletes.

At an Olympics aiming to set the highest level of TV standards, broadcasters are taking a stand.

One mantra Olympic officials are pushing in an effort to reach gender equity on the field of play and on screen is: “Sport appeal, not sex appeal”.

'INCONSOLABLE': Tennis star in devastating Olympics moment

'SHAMELESS': China lashes out over 'ugly' photo of gold medallist

“You will not see in our coverage some things that we have been seeing in the past, with details and close-up on parts of the body,” Olympic Broadcasting Services chief executive Yiannis Exarchos said Monday.

But as Graham Dunbar of the Associated Press pointed out: "That can be difficult with state-of-the-art technology filming sports - such as beach volleyball, gymnastics, swimming and track - where female athletes' uniforms can be scant and skimpy."

The issue reared its ugly head this week when the German women's gymnastics team decided to wear full-length bodysuits rather than the more revealing leotard.

Germany's female gymnasts, pictured here wearing full-length unitards.
Germany's female gymnasts are wearing full-length unitards. (Photo by Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images)

For decades, female gymnasts have worn bikini-cut leotards.

But in qualifying on Sunday, the German team wore unitards that stretched to their ankles, intending to push back against sexualisation of women in gymnastics.

Elisabeth Seitz, Kim Bui, Pauline Schafer and Sarah Voss all donned the unitards as competition kicked off on Monday.

"We wanted to show that every woman, everybody, should decide what to wear," said Seitz, who is competing in her third Games.

Outfits covering legs are allowed by the gymnastics rulebook in international competitions, but have been used almost exclusively for religious reasons.

"The coaches were also very much into it," said 21-year-old Voss.

"They said they want us to feel the most confident and comfortable in any case."

Beach handball team fined for shunning bikini bottoms

But that doesn't mean women in all sports are free to choose what they want to hear.

Just days before the Olympics began, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team were fined for refusing to play in bikini bottoms during the European world championships.

They instead opted for skin-tight shorts and every player received a fine for violating a wardrobe requirement.

The International Olympic Committee doesn't govern those kinds of rules for individual sports, but it does run the Olympic Broadcasting Services and controls the broadcast output from Tokyo shown to the world.

“What we can do is to make sure that our coverage does not highlight or feature in any particular way what people are wearing,” Exarchos said.

To achieve this, the IOC updated “Portrayal Guidelines” to steer all Olympic sports and their rights holders toward “gender-equal and fair” broadcasts of their events. 

Advice includes: “Do not focus unnecessarily on looks, clothing or intimate body parts” and reframing or deleting a “wardrobe malfunction ... to respect the integrity of the athlete.”

“We in media have not yet done all that we can do,” said Exarchos, while claiming progress over the past 15 years. 

“This is something that we need to be frank and open (about) among ourselves.”

with Associated Press

Watch 'Mind Games', the new series from Yahoo Sport Australia exploring the often brutal mental toil elite athletes go through in pursuit of greatness:

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting