Kathryn Ryan talks to Dr Holly Thorpe from Waikato University about the new sports announced for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics - karate, softball, baseball, skateboarding, surfing and sport climbing.
Read an edited excerpt from their interview below:
Tell us about the inclusion of these sports and what that might mean for women at the Olympics.
The inclusion of these new sports is all part of what is called ‘Agenda 2020’ which came about with the new president of the IOC, Thomas Bark and it’s really about trying to shake-up the Olympic games and recognising that they need to change to be more flexible, more innovative and youth-focussed. Part of the Agenda 2020 is to help the Olympic games reach gender equity, so, 50/50 across all sports. Bringing these new sports in help with that gender equity because each of these sports will have equal numbers of men and women. So, some of those sports that have come in in the past have more men competing in them than women, so moving these sports in is actually part of IOC trying to move towards gender equity.
There has been a change in the images that we see in popular culture of physically strong women and that not being a negative or some kind of a judgement on their femininity. Is it a generational change in every way that you have been part of influencing?
A lot of my research has been around social media and these new sports. In our household and a lot of households across New Zealand and the world, the world surfing tour is really popular on Sky and paid television and the internet. The female surfers are getting some pretty good coverage on there, they’ve got some female commentators there as well and really they are out there kicking butt. Some of them do have that femininity that Toni was talking about but some of them don’t and they are getting celebrated for their athleticism and their commitment to the sport. So we are seeing some interesting changes in some of these sports.
It’s a funny word to use – femininity - isn’t it these days? There are so many things that you could build around that in conversation. But essentially, it’s fine to be female and physical. It seems to have been this long-term battle and certainly when women were finally allowed to play sports it was only some sports.
I think that is a really good point, and I think that it is not just fine to be feminine and athletic, it’s actually better to feminine and athletic according to sponsors and journalists. Those are the women who get the most coverage, those are the women who get paid the most and in a way that’s a bit of a shame, because the women who don’t look a particular way, who don’t fit that traditional femininity, don’t get as much coverage. For example in surfing, Alana Blanchard, who is an amazing surfer, but also a bikini model, she is the most highly paid female surfer, but she’s not really on the tour anymore and she’s not competing. It’s a bit of a shame that that still seems to outweigh female athleticism.
This is my point about these new sports. The definitions of what is feminine can be completely differently represented by these kick-ass women. They are in many ways, a very different model than what you will see on television or areas of popular culture. It’s about broadening the concepts and allowing these differences to be represented on a very large stage.
Absolutely. If we see female skateboarders at the Olympics, we’re going to see a different kind of femininity being celebrated there and that is just awesome because that gives young girls growing up a whole lot of different varieties of being a female athlete. When we see skateboarding at the Olympics, which has traditionally been a young, male-dominated sport, I think that’s an area we’re going to see some real changes in the gender dynamics and ratios of that sport because parents are going to see women skateboarding at the Olympics, little girls are going to see women skateboarding at the Olympics and are going to go, ‘Hey, let’s do that!’ We are already seeing a rise in women in skateboarding and some really powerful women in the sport really struggling to make space and some powerful changes. But I think with the Olympics inclusion and the visibility of these female athletes, we’re going to see a real boom in women in skateboarding.