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Post mort for IOC: Why are the Olympics so sexist?!?

March 1, 2010 – 6:30 AM

By Laura Pappano

The closing ceremonies in Vancouver are finished, so let’s reflect: Why does a tremendous sport festival whose aim is to foster political goodwill remain so darned sexist?

Events for women are typically lesser or shorter (or in the case of ski jumping, non-existent) compared with the men’s. Many of these differences make no sense:

—  Women’s singles freestyle figure skating rules requires skaters to perform 12 compulsory moves and complete the program in 4 minutes, plus or minus 10 seconds. The same event for men requires 13 (one more!) compulsory moves and is 30 seconds longer. Hmm…?

Cross country ski races are a study in gender differentiation, with men’s races longer – even though women are terrific marathon runners and as a group are physiologically suited to endurance events. Shorter because….?

—  Short-track skating has many of the same events for men and women, but oddly when it comes to the relay(!), has a 5,000m event for men and trims the women’s to 3,000m.

— And then there are the pragmatic decisions, like shortening the luge track because of worries about racers reaching excessive speeds. If men are generally heavier than women as a group, thus more at risk for reaching those speeds, why shorten the women’s to the junior track just because you have shortened the men’s? Is this to ensure safety or intact male egos? Not surprisingly, several female athletes complained about being forced to race from the “children’s” start.

The overt sexism in the Olympics extends to the way female athletes are viewed and treated. And it’s not just me who sees this. Male sportswriters are screaming, too:

— In the March 1, issue of Sports Illustrated (yes, SI),  Phil Taylor’s column, Point After, not only takes up the outrageous refusal of the International Olympic Committee to allow women’s ski jumping, but notes a chief problem contributing to the lack of competition in women’s ice hockey is the lopsided spending by many European countries on men’s sports. The Russian women’s team didn’t practice until three weeks before the games.

“Sexism isn’t confined to any sport or country,” Taylor writes. “It’s a universal language, spoken not so much with words as with action, or the lack of it.”

— And in yesterday’s Boston Globe, hockey writer Kevin Paul DuPont appears to stun even himself (“Call me a flaming feminist – please, just once, to make me fell [sic] all PC-like…”) when he defends the Canadian women’s ice hockey gold medal winners post-victory – and post medal ceremony – celebration and finds absurd the IOC plan for an investigation.

“Investigate? Please spare us the ‘Casablanca’-like roundup of ‘the usual suspects.’ We know what happened. They won a gold medal, in front of a screaming full house at Canada Hockey Place, and they broke out the booze and had a ball. Then they had to apologize.”

“Because…why?” His point: a blatant double standard.

We have four years before the next Winter Games, and two-and-a-half before the Summer Games in London.  When the IOC gathers to reflect, someone should have the courage ask the question on a lot of minds: Why do the Olympics, which allows nations – even those struggling to be part of the civil discourse of the international community – enforce such a stereotyped bias against women?

Isn’t it time to lead instead of looking so utterly out of step?

  1. 5 Responses to “Post mort for IOC: Why are the Olympics so sexist?!?”

  2. I love women and I am all about equality but the fact remains that most top female athletes can’t do the same things as top male athletes in the same sport. Case in point, Figure skating. having no triple axel as a man is suicide and has been since the 80s. 4 female skaters in history have ever landed one in competition. part of the reason men have one more element is because they can do another jump. Could the ladies skate 30 second more, probably. But I bet they don’t want to.

    Would you rather all sports be co-ed? Very rarely, if ever would you see a woman medal in any event. It just doesn’t make sense.

    By Natalie on Mar 1, 2010

  3. “Why do the Olympics, which allows nations – even those struggling to be part of the civil discourse of the international community – enforce such a stereotyped bias against women?”

    You answered the question in your own article: intact male egos.

    Another question remains is why do women support this behavior?

    By Mike on Mar 2, 2010

  4. Great blog, Laura. You are right on target, as usual! The Olympic committee is outdated. Natalie’s argument doesn’t hold water. I can remember when women weren’t allowed to play full court basketball (50s and 60s) or swim the same distances as men. Why they can’t compete in ski jumping just doesn’t make sense. Carry on!

    By Davi-Ellen Chabner on Mar 2, 2010

  5. Not to mention the already much-discussed sexist media coverage! While Costa, Lauer, et al. were slobbering over Lindsay Vaughn, less attractive women athletes barely warranted a mention. With all due respect to Vaughn, why is it such big news that women can be both athletic and beautiful? And why were so many winning-but-not-SI-cover-material women overshadowed by frat-boy skiers who failed to finish?

    By Daryl on Mar 2, 2010

  6. Good article, Laura. Besides having additional women’s events, such as women’s ski jumping, I would like to see more sports that allow men and women to complete together. In the summer Olympics, equestrian and sailing allow for this.

    In the winter Olympics, Curling could and should be open to either sex. Perhaps a variation in luge, bobsled or skeleton where the push-off is not a critical part of the sport and skill is only measured by how well the sled is driven.

    Olympic officials should look for additional events that allow fair competition in sports that could be open to either sex.

    By Don on Mar 3, 2010

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