Women in the media: London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony media coverage

Olympics, elite sports, role of women, country policies and attitudes, role of media. This is a quite strong combination of components. It covers a vast range of issues.

We have chosen a media metrics analysis focused specifically on women. As in all cases we present in this post, we completely renounce to propose or provide any theoretical background or hypothesis concerning the issue that we are covering. We analyze a wide variety of social, economic or political issues from many countries, and we do not claim expertise in every single domain studied.

Regular readers of this blog know that this approach –no use of theoretical background- is due to the nature and objectives of this blog and our research team. We do not pretend to be academic specialists of every single topic shown here. Our aim is just to apply our media analysis and reputation metrics techniques to different events. We study the techniques and their results, rather than the events and their circumstances. We explore new ways to use our techniques, and we try to follow our intuitions on how our quantitative analysis may be useful and relevant for helping to understand the underlying events.

If your primary interest is media content analysis, branding and reputation metrics, you main interest, like ours, in how to apply the quantitative tools for addressing questions and problems in projects requiring measurement.

If you are rather mainly interested in something related with Olympics, social role of women, media stereotypes, social values and media, you will probably be looking for the actual empirical results concerning the topic of this blog entry: how do media from different countries portray the presence of women, its causes and its implications. In this case, it is maybe you who can approach this reading bearing in mind your own scientific knowledge, the prevalent literature and previous existing empirical evidence. With this theoretical background, you can derive your own conclusions about the empirical results we show to you.

London 2012 Summer Olympics and women participation

In all sport mega events, there are always a number of pre event issues that capture media attention, before the sport spectacle completely overcome media coverage.

Female participation was one of these issues, as some delegations barred women for representing their country in the Olympics. This became eventually a controversy when the International Olympic Committee announced the new policy not to accept only male delegations, by 2010.

We quote some paragraphs from Wikipedia on ‘Female participation’ in Summer Olympics 2012.


“In June 2010, the International Olympic Committee said it would “press” Saudi Arabia along with Qatar and Brunei to “send female athletes to the 2012 Olympic Games for the first time”.[2] Anita DeFrantz, chair of the IOC’s Women and Sports Commission, suggested that the country be barred from participating in the Olympics until it agrees to send women athletes to the Games.

Brunei and Qatar reacted quickly after international pressure was made.


In March 2012, Brunei informed the IOC that it intended for Maziah Mahusin to compete at the London Games. Although Mahusin was unlikely to meet the qualifying standards for the Games, she would be able to compete thanks to the Olympics’ principle of universality, which states that “NOCs have the possibility of entering unqualified athletes in athletics and swimming should they not have athletes qualified in these sports”.


The Qatar Olympic Committee announced that it “hoped to send up to four female athletes in shooting and fencing” to the 2012 Summer Games in London.[1] [2] The country ultimately included four female athletes in its delegation.[3]

Sauda Arabia

In November 2011, Al Arabiya reported that “Saudi Arabia plans to send a female equestrian team to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London to avoid being barred from taking part”. Dalma Rushdi Malhas, it said, was likely to compete.[4] I.O.C. spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau, however, indicated that the Committee “would not mandate that the Saudis have female representation in London”, arguing that “the I.O.C. does not give ultimatums nor deadlines but rather believes that a lot can be achieved through dialogue”.[6] It was also confirmed that the Saudi national Olympic Committee would not prevent Malhas from competing at the London Games. More specifically, she would be permitted to compete if she were invited to the Games by the I.O.C., but Saudi Arabia would not be inviting her to do so itself. Instead, the country was preparing to select four male riders to send to the equestrian competition.

In late June, 2012, the country announced that it would permit women’s participation, and that its Olympic Committee would “oversee participation of women athletes who can qualify”. The BBC described the decision as “a huge step, overturning deep-rooted opposition from those opposed to any public role for women”. It noted that the change had been “led by King Abdullah, who has long been pushing for women to play a more active role in Saudi society”.

The IOC announced in mid July 2012 that Saudi Arabia had entered two female athletes, Judoka Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and 800m-runner Sarah Attar, to participate in the 2012 Olympics.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudi_Arabia_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics


This made that all 204 delegations taking part in London 2012 included female athletes for the first time ever in Olympics history. This framework created a special sensitivity around the Opening Ceremony concerning non discrimination and women’s rights.

Women in the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Following these female athletes in Muslim countries became one of the focus of media attention, around national teams parade. But this was just one chapter of the Opening Ceremony. The interesting thing for us that in all parts of the Ceremony and around it there were a number of women taking part in it and sometimes a central role: a woman was in charge of officially declaring the commencement of the Games, Queen Elizabeth II. A number of female artists, singers, dancers or writers or figures (like Mary Poppins or actress ‘The Queen’) appeared during the show. There were also some female public authorities among the 120 Head of Stats or Government present, like US First Lady Michelle Obama. There were finally the main protagonists of the Games, the athletes, male and female.

Country media coverage of the Opening Ceremony

The specific empirical question that we address in this post is the choice made by journalists the day after the inauguration of the Game to explain and illustrate it. Among the myriad of spectacular and astonishing images created during the three hours long event, which is the one selected by the newspapers to summarize the spectacle to be shared with readers. It is true that the selection can be enlarged to more than one image, as many newspapers publish several articles about the event or typically include a photographic gallery. For the vast majority of newspapers, a selective process is made due to space limitations.

We want to investigate which is the behaviour followed by journalists in several countries in terms of image media coverage of the Opening Ceremony concerning basically one variable: male/female and then, which kind of images about women.

In order to consider this issue, we have proceed to a news image content analysis of news about London 2012 published in newspapers the day after the commencement of the Games, June 27 2012. We have applied the same tools and mechanism than already used in previous cases like all the analysis about Football Euro 2012, in this blog. We select a representative number of images published in each country by semi automatic techniques, and we proceed to a direct image content analysis.

The empirical analysis below is based in content analysis of 980 photos directly related with the Opening Ceremony published in newspapers the day after, in six countries: Britain, Australia, India, Indonesia, Iran and Mexico.

Our first finding is that news photos showing close views of men or women are a minority of all photos about the event. The majority of photos show global views of the stadium during the show, or show images of crowds of undifferentiated people. 69% of all images show global or collective viewing.

As shown in the figure below, country values of collective images range between 62% (Australia and Indonesia) and 73% (México). We do not observe any special pattern concerning the share of collective images.

The following figure is the first one directly linked to the main goal of the analysis in this post: the share of male/female images in the media in the selected countries. We have included a third group of images where both men and women appeared as main protagonists in the photo.

Looking first at media coverage in British media, we find that men took by far the leading role: they represented 48% of news photos, while only women photos were just 26%.

We have the opposite result in media in Australia and India (this country with a small number of images), where photos about women in the Open Ceremony are the majority, with 46% of images, opposed to 36% for men in Australia and just 16% in India.

We have two other Asian countries, with a vast majority of Muslim population. Remember that all countries affected by the cotroversy/crisis of women participation in the sport delegation were Muslim countries. According to our data, we have that media coverage in Indonesia and Iran was strongly oriented to presenting images of men in the news (55% and 58%), adn images of women represent less than half of it (26% and 22%).

The final country analysed is Mexico. We find an exactly balanced post ceremony treatment, both male and female receiving 35% of of event images.

The role of women in the Opening Ceremony: media coverage.

Once we have shown the distribution of images male/female in some countries, now we proceed to a second level of image content analysis. We focus our attention to news photos showing women in relation with the Opening Ceremony, and we analyse which moments have been selected by journalists as representative of the event.

In the following figure we show the results concerning the treatment given in the media as average of all six selected countries.

We have classified the variety of images into seven different groups. Two of them refer to women with public political positions, as Head of State or Prime Minister. Images of the hosting Head of State, Queen Elizabeth represent 23% of all images of women. She take the most prominent role in the media as individual personality. Images of other women in authority take 8%. Most of them refer to USA First Lady Michelle Obama and to Princess Kate Middleton.

Photos of female athletes take one quarter of all images.

There are three groups of images related with women appearing in the spectacle. One of the success proposals in terms of media impact was the actress representing an audatious Queen arriving to the stadium with parachute with James Bond. She takes 13% of all images. Other images showing other artists (singers, dancers, J. K. Rowling) provide another 13% of all images. Finally, images of anonymous women artists partipating in the opening spectacle represent 11% of the images. They are mostly linked to the shows showing nurses of the UK public health service, and peasant people.

The last group of images correspond to anonymous women from the public attending the spectacle.

In the following figure we compare media treatment in British media, compared to media coverage in the other five countries, concerning the seven groups of images about women in the Olympics opening ceremony.

Newspapers in Britain provide a similar coverage than abroad concerning the role of Queen Elizabeth, the actress representing her and other individual artists. British media provide a much higher coverage to other female authorities (in fact, Princess Kate) and to female fans and spectators in the public. It is surprising to see how media in Britain ‘abuse’ of this kind of images (as compared to international coverage), as they show normally young attractive female in the public (with or without showing British symbols). This is an use of images of women which is tipically chosen by male photgraphers and journalists thinking in male readers. Our results suggest that this is a quite extended practice in Britain.

We finally choose a detailed analysis of media space given to Queen Elizabeth in each selected country. Global average is 23% of all images showing women. This is also the share present in British media. Here presence if even higher in newspapers in India, Indonesia and Mexico. It is somehow smaller in India. And we find that there is no reference at all to images about the Queen in Iran newspapers. As we have a sufficient amount of images, we tend to consider that this is not a random result, and that for some reason, press policy in Iran does not consider suitable to show the images of this woman/Head of State.


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