Expert comment: Has the Olympic Games caught up with the modern world?

Posted by ap507 at Aug 15, 2016 10:39 AM |
John Williams from the University of Leicester discusses how the Olympics still has a way to go before all athletes are treated equally

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 15 August 2016 

John Williams is available to discuss inequality in the Olympics on

Despite greater representation of women in the Rio Olympics than in previous years, anachronisms and gender divisions still remain, according to an expert from the University of Leicester.

John Williams, Senior Lecturer from the University of Leicester Department of Sociology and Unit for Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement has written an article for Think: Leicester, the University’s platform for independent academic opinion, discussing the founder of the modern Olympics movement, French aristocrat Baron de Coubertin, early notions of equality and fairness in social class in Olympic sports, and gender differences still found in certain sports, such as volleyball, swimming and gymnastics.

In the article he said: “44% of all competitors at London 2012 were female and Britain’s Nicola Adams became the first female boxer to win an Olympics gold medal. Female sevens rugby players competed, alongside the men’s competition, for the first time in Rio 2016.

“But anachronisms and gender divisions remain in the Olympics. If beach volleyball and synchronised swimming, for example, are good enough for women in the Games, why not for male competitors too?  And if men can use the rings in gymnastics, why can’t females do the same?

“According to the BBC, researchers for Cambridge University Press recently analysed millions of words relating to men and women and Olympic sports in the Cambridge English Corpus (CEC) and the Sport Corpus. This huge study revealed common word combinations for female athletes included: aged, older, pregnant and married or unmarried. In contrast, top word combinations for male athletes more often included fastest, strong, big and great. The Cambridge study also found that the language used around women in sport focussed disproportionately on their appearance, clothes and personal lives.

“This sort of thing might be depressing, but none of it is especially surprising in a world in which celebrity culture and the popular press pump out highly conventional and conservative views about gender inequality and difference, and interest or involvement in sport simply confirms conventional heterosexuality in men but does the opposite for women. Such ideas echo much of what was said more than a century ago in de Coubertin’s day.

“Women and girl’s sport, in this country and elsewhere, needs to be considered on its own terms and it requires much more encouragement, funding and support of a kind that does not rely on the reproduction of traditional conventions about gender, or commercial interest and market forces. Then, perhaps, we can finally begin to see all our sporting stars for what they really are – exceptional, talented athletes. And national heroes.”

The full article ‘Has the Olympic Games caught up with the modern world?’ is available on Think: Leicester here:


Notes to editors:

John Williams is available to discuss inequality in the Olympics on

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