It has been hard to miss the start of the Olympic Games, even for the less avid sportspeople in our midst. Whether you are following every sporting contest and scanning the medals table hourly, or you have simply come across the various political, health and social issues surrounding the event on your news feed, the Games have caused ripples across the world.
For all their claims of neutrality, and the best efforts of the International Olympic Committee to avoid interfering in international conflicts and disputes, the Games inevitably find external influences creeping into the competition. Whether it be the rise of national socialism, civil rights movements or cold war boycotts, competitors find a way to display or proclaim their political beliefs on such a prominent global platform as the Olympics provides.
Given the large scale coverage of some of the political events of recent weeks, it would be very easy to overlook one of the more positive elements of social change which the Olympics could help address. Last week, before the Team GB flag-bearer was chosen, a debate arose within cycling (one of the UK’s most successful sports of recent years) as to who ought to carry the GB flag if a cyclist were chosen. Sir Bradley Wiggins, a recent GB cycling great, explicitly turned down the honour, insisting it should go to a female cyclist. Ultimately the British Olympic Association selected tennis player Andy Murray instead, but the discussion which ensued raised the question of the prominence of female athletes in competitive sporting events.
This may seem a relatively minimal issue to some people, and one with less political focus and clout than some of the other issues surrounding these Olympics, but the question of visibility and representation of female athletes is crucial for future generations. As demonstrated beautifully in this video by charity Inspiring the Future, young children are particularly influenced by seeing people in positions of authority and adoration, and form early ideas of gender roles and vocations from seeing figures perform these roles. If we truly want to inspire young people of all genders to pursue sports and follow their heroes, we need to give them the belief that such heroes exist and are drawn from people like them.