ITU president Marisol Casado: ‘Female athletes deserve more balanced portrayal in the media’

With Sport Accord 2018 coming to a close, International Triathlon Union (ITU) president Marisol Casado discusses the issues that female athletes face in their portrayal in the media, and outlines how the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) new gender equality recommendations are addressing those issues.

ITU president Marisol Casado: ‘Female athletes deserve more balanced portrayal in the media’

Fighting for gender equality in international sport isn’t just about, say, the percentage of Olympic athletes at a given Games represented by each gender, though this metric is hugely important—and one in which we’ve made significant progress.

There are myriad ways in which gender imbalance plays out across the athletic landscape. For example, one of the achievements of the International Triathlon Union - which I lead and helped found - that I am most proud of is its practice of paying equal prize money to men and women in every race, every year, which is still somehow a rarity in sport. While race winnings hit athletes directly in their bank accounts, there are other, more subtle areas where women must confront inequality. One of the most damaging is the often differing portrayals of male and female athletes in the news media and sport marketing.

This week I am attending the 2018 Sport Accord World Sport & Business Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, the theme of which is "Uniting A Global Audience: Marketing and Sponsorship for the Future." Sport Accord is one of the many global platforms from which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will again draw attention to the importance of advancing gender equality in sport, with this year’s focus helping shine a light on unequal portrayals of men and women.

Female athletes have long faced biased and systemically unbalanced portrayals of their endeavours in media, marketing and sponsorships and on and off the field. This is particularly the case within sports that have been traditionally male for the last 50 to 60 years. In newer sports in which both women and men typically compete, the gender portrayals tend to be more balanced, yet there is still plenty more work to be done in both older and newer sports.  

Unequal portrayals is just one area addressed by the IOC’s new gender equality recommendations, recently announced by a Working Group that I chair, and aimed at forging a fairer, more balanced future for girls and women in sport. The recommendations cover four other areas - sport, funding, governance and human resources. They create an actionable roadmap to work with all of the IOC’s partners and affiliates around the world to advance gender equality within the Olympic Movement and the global sports community.

Three of the 25 recommendations address the portrayal issue:

  • Recommendation 12 calls for a fair and balanced media portrayal of both genders in sport and specifically requires its administration to establish principles and specific guidelines for what that entails in all its forms of communication.
  • Recommendation 13 requires that Organising Committees of the Olympic Games (OCOGs) provide fair and equal portrayal of women and men in all aspects of the Olympic Games, as part of their commitment to respect the Olympic Charter and to protect the Olympic brand.
  • Recommendation 14 calls on the IOC to implement mechanisms - in partnership with Olympic Movement stakeholders, including sponsors - to address and monitor the objective of a fair and equal portrayal of sportswomen in the media.

Sport has always been a catalyst for positive change, and we believe we can and will make a difference in addressing gender inequality through sport as well. I have been very inspired by the discussions we have had this week at Sport Accord. I urge other members of the global sport community - from local, grassroots organisations to stakeholders to athletes themselves, to leaders of International Federations, to sponsors and beyond - to work with the IOC to do the hard work of implementing the gender equality recommendations.

After all, if we do not balance portrayals of women in sport at every level, we will fail at creating a positive, enriching environment for female athletes, particularly young girls at the very beginning of their careers in competition. Now is the time to fully embrace these new gender equality recommendations across all levels and forms of sport, and I am proud of the IOC’s bold leadership in pushing this very important issue forward. I believe this is how we will together as a global sports community accelerate progress - and empower female athletes with the equality they deserve in this moment, right now, and in the future - one bold, actionable step at a time. 

Marisol Casado, president and founding member of the International Triathlon Union, began her athletic career as a runner and field hockey player. A member of the IOC since 2010 and a Sport Accord member and treasurer, she has held several leadership roles in the world of sport, both in her home country of Spain and internationally. She has also served as a member of the Spanish National Olympic Committee and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations. Casado has tirelessly fought for the advancement of female athletes, not only within the realm of running, but also as the Chair of the IOC Gender Equality Review Project.