Olympic-sized inequality in Tokyo 2020

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NASCAR has nothin on the corners these folks pull off Wikimedia

Did you know Paralympians see more medals than Olympians for less media and money?

The 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo have been advertised as the most gender-equal games ever. Statistically, this is correct, showing female athlete participation at 49 per cent and male at 51 per cent – but delving into actions of gender-based discrimination shows that the Olympics are far from achieving gender equality. Not only do the Olympic Games prove to be problematic, the Paralympics and Special Olympics remain outside the spotlight despite being advertised as parallel to the Olympic Games. Disparities between different athletes competing within the Olympics have had individuals question a hierarchy within the games despite it being an equal opportunity for all athletes.

The Olympics is a bulldozer that infects the media. Promotional videos and commercials divide each event through dramatizations that emphasize the capability of the best and most athletic human bodies. Set after the Olympics, the Paralympics take place, which do not receive nearly as much media coverage as its counterpart. Despite being proclaimed as an equal event, it is very clear that the priority remains on Olympians, while Paralympians remain relatively unseen by the rest of the world. Canada’s Paralympic team has typically had greater success than the Olympic team. In Rio, five years ago, the Paralympic team won 29 medals, compared to the Olympic team winning 22. While Olympians should be celebrated for the merit and high excellence of sport, this is significant because many of the Paralympic events are not even broadcasted[1]. This year in Tokyo, CBC is reporting a recording breaking amount of coverage for the Paralympics at 120 hours. However, the Olympic Games received 3,775 hours of coverage time[2].

Each National Olympic Committee is in charge of paying Olympians for receiving gold, silver, and bronze medals. This year, Olympians and Paralympians alike from Canada will be paid the same amount for their places on the podium in the Tokyo Olympics. Olympians in Sochi 2014 received $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze medals. However, Paralympian’s did not receive a cent if they earned a medal. The stark contrast between awarded honorariums for athletes demonstrates the prioritization between different athletes. Equal pay for athletes demonstrates a step in the right direction to achieving Olympic Charter values[3].

Media slander against female Olympic athletes began before the start of the games early in June. After a positive drug test, Sha’Carri Richardson’s disqualification from the women’s U.S.A track team caused an internet uproar of individuals campaigning for her to compete. This was followed by the banning of swim caps made for Black women’s hair because they caused an abnormal shape that was not traditional to the head. While many media corporations have made attempts to create outlets focusing on female athletes, controversies surrounding female athletes tend to overtake the headlines rather than focusing on their successes. Beyond this, many news outlets still focus the majority of the attention on male athletes’ success.

While there are strides to making Olympic events gender neutral – such as relay events in track and swimming – there are still events that do not have any female participants, such as the long racewalk and decathlon. Furthermore, no men compete in women-dominated events such as rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. Heterosexual norms paint a picture of what sports are deemed acceptable for each gender norm. Women’s sports are typically more feminine options, including dance elements and eloquent forms. Men’s sports are rougher and more intense, including more elements of strength and power. More importantly, there is hardly any mention of athletes that identify as non-binary showing a complete lack of representation to their community. Like a lot of mainstream media, the Olympics uses subtle cues to signify cultural heterosexual norms to their viewers. Sport is genderless, and it should be participated in as such. There should be an encouragement for anybody to participate in whatever sport that makes them increase the enjoyment of what they would like to do.

Encouraging equal representation within the Olympic committee will make for more accurate policies for athletes, coaching, and other staff members. The Olympics administration is currently unbalanced. Starting with the International Olympic Committee, there is no equal representation of males to females, with only 33.3 per cent of women on the executive board and 37.5 per cent of committee members being female[4].

The Olympic Charter outlines the prospects and values of the Olympic Games that the International Olympic Committee puts forth. Olympism is the core fundamental within the Olympics, defined as: “Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles” (Olympic Charter 11). Olympism exists within the Olympic Charter to coexist “Without discrimination of any kind” (Olympic Charter 12). Representation in the Olympic realm matters when making accurate and ethical policies for women participating in the games. Furthermore, these statistics only cover the female to male ratio. An intersectional call to the Olympics needs to be portrayed for the needs of athletes of different ethnicities, races, disabilities, genders, and religions.

The worldly halt that the Olympics causes every two years has astronomical influence over its viewers, as everyone stops and turns on their television to show support for their national athletes. The Olympics is a time when great nations of the world unite to compete in sport and in friendship to create new relations with individuals of other regions. The Olympics still has a way to go in order to achieve gender equality, and broadcasting stations have demonstrated commitment to highlighting female athletes.

Yusra Mardini, a Syrian civil war survivor, competed in the 100-meter butterfly swimming event last week. Mardini is currently competing on the Refugee Olympic Team and inspires others with her story of hope. Canada’s first transgender athlete, who goes simply by Quinn, won a gold medal in weightlifting paving the way for the success of other trans athletes. Success for Paralympian Brent Lakatos is on the horizon as he heads into his fifth Paralympics who already has seven medals before the games begin.  Looking through these mediatized events and showing the inspiring stories of Olympic athletes is much more important than enforcing gender roles. Equal media representation will demonstrate the prioritization of equality among athletes. Encouraging the greatness of sport, success, and friendship should be the top priority.


[1] https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1111845/tokyo-2020-paralympics-canada

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics/summer/cbc-and-partners-to-broadcast-3775-hours-of-olympic-coverage-heres-how-to-watch-1.6108316

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/paralympic-athletes-left-out-of-medal-bonuses-1.2579221

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/22/sports/olympics/olympics-athletes-gender.html

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