Millions of moments were captured by photographers at the 2022 Winter Olympics: From sky-high aerial action and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed to raucous team celebrations and the solitary, still seconds in between.
But while women were responsible for many of the most memorable moments from the Beijing Games, most of their achievements – as well as their disappointments – were documented by men.
The Beijing Winter Games were technically the most “gender equal” in history, with women representing 45 percent of all athletes, but the media covering the Olympics were far less gender balanced. The International Olympic Committee helped highlight this disparity when the organization released the final number of validated media accreditations following the Closing Ceremony.
In Beijing, 9,388 individuals received media credentials. That total includes three categories: press organizations (1,952); rights-holding broadcasters (3,607); and host-broadcaster representatives (3,829).
The IOC released a gender breakdown for the first category, which includes print reporters and photographers. Of the 1,952 media members in Beijing, just 23 percent – 443 individuals – were women. Within that group, women photographers were the least represented, percentage-wise: Of the 603 photographers accredited at the Games, only 13 percent – 80 individuals – were women.
Press accreditation numbers by gender at the 2022 Winter Olympics:
|CATEGORY||FEMALE||MALE||TOTAL||FEMALE %||MALE %|
|EC (MPC support staff)||6||13||19||32%||68%|
|ENR (Non-rights-holding broadcaster)||51||91||142||36%||64%|
“I think it’s jarring to see the numbers in print because my impression, honestly, when I was there is that the numbers were improving,” said Getty Images photographer Maddie Meyer, whose resume includes four Olympic Games, 10 FIFA World Cups (women and men) and the Super Bowl.
Meyer, a 2014 Ohio University grad and Boston resident, was stationed in “Z-Zone” in Beijing, formally known as the Zhangjiakou Zone, which hosted Nordic skiing events, as well as the bulk of freestyle skiing and snowboarding events. She was one of 11 Getty photographers in the zone, three of whom were women. Overall, Getty Images had 61 representatives in Beijing — staff included photographers, editors, editorial operations, product and technology staff — with 13 being women (21 percent).
“[While] it’s not 50/50, I thought, ’Oh this is great, I’ve got two girlfriends up here with me. This is awesome.’ But I did notice when, for example, I covered Shaun White‘s last run and hanging out in the scrum near the mixed zone, looking around and I do notice, of course, women are still a minority there.”
At major sporting events in the U.S., Meyer said she can easily see female photographers are still the minority, yet she remembers a different picture while in college, where she says women made up the majority of her fellow visual communications students. While that makes her hopeful that growing gender equality in her profession is not a “supply-chain issue,” Meyer says it remains a challenge to get women photographers game-ready for pressure-packed sports competitions.
“How do we make sure they’re coming up and getting opportunities at the highest level,” said Meyer. “Because that’s another thing: We’re covering the Olympic Games. That’s the pinnacle of sport photography, and this is not the time to give somebody a first chance or first try – when it’s a really high-pressure situation.
“So how do you get new photographers, men or women, into a position where they’re covering these really high-demand, high-pressure sports?”
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While Getty has addressed that question with targeted internship programs and mentorships, part of the answer lies in Meyer herself. As the first woman to earn the Getty Images’ Sports Internship in 2013, her living, breathing, trailblazing path inspired fellow colleague and OU alum Sarah Stier, who is here to confirm: Representation matters.
“When I saw that Maddie – that her full-time job was being a sports photographer – that’s what I wanted to do, and so I had Maddie to look up to,” said Stier, who worked the 2022 Winter Games as an Alpine photo editor as well as a photographer in the Beijing Zone, which primarily hosted the Olympic ice sports. “They always say it, but it helps when you have people to look up to, and I think that’s the key and that’s how we’re going to (bring more women into the profession).”
Stier also worked the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, where the media accreditation numbers provided by the IOC reflected a similar breakdown percentage-wise by gender. The press corps totaled 4,187 (down by approximately 1,800 from “normal” Summer Games numbers), with 20 percent of the total credentials going to women, and just 12 percent of the 1,042 photographer credentials were held by women.
Bringing a woman’s perspective to the competition field
When it comes to documenting the action, Meyer and Stier bring a similar approach to their craft, intent on capturing the action as they see it, no matter the subject. But both women also have embraced their position among the minority, seeing it as an opportunity to elevate their points of view as well as to champion the same dynamic coverage of female athletes and women’s sports.
“While there are disadvantages to being a woman in this male-dominated field, I will say that I do think when I am covering female athletes, I think they do feel more comfort around me and so maybe in that moment that’s my advantage,” said Stier.
In particular, Stier said she seized those advantages last year while covering the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s history-making game hosted at Madison Square Garden, as part of the 2021 Dream Gap Tour.
“As I was shooting, I was trying to challenge myself to think beyond the the photos and storylines that we always see in women’s sports,” she said, referring to the stereotypical images of ponytails and painted fingernails.
“What can I shoot beyond that? Because when we photograph men’s reactions after they score a goal or something, they’re these almost guttural screams, you know? It’s intense – and I want to make sure that when I photograph female athletes, I’m photographing them in the exact same way that I photograph male athletes.
“That’s going to be hard for some people to adjust to because women athletes don’t always look pretty when they’re scoring.”
Meyer noted that she, too, considers it her responsibility to provide the same gritty coverage for women’s sports as she does for men.
“I need to be sure that I’m showing the women in their peak action and getting dirty and sliding on the turf and things like that, so that – ultimately it’s a little bit out of my hands – but I make such an effort to be able to provide these tough, peak-action moments.”
But Meyer has found a little magic in differences between on-field celebrations at women’s events vs. men’s: “Often (women) give great reaction to each other. A lot of men will celebrate to the cameras or by themselves, and women tend to come together and celebrate with their teams, so there are more pictures there, and often I find that more interesting.”
But at the end of day, it’s respect for their subjects that rules the work.
“I always try and put myself in the (place) of whatever athlete I’m photographing, man or woman, and I know something that’s true for all of them is they’ve worked really hard to get to this point,” said Meyer.
“They have dedicated likely their entire lives to getting here, and I want the athlete to be shown in a good light, in a respectful light, and to honor the work that they’ve done to get to that moment.”
What is being done to support female sports photographers?
Last year, the IOC released an extensive “Gender Equality and Inclusion Report” as well as detailed “Portrayal Guidelines,” both of which encourage gender equality among content creators, storytellers and news organizations. These recommendations even go so far as to encourage sports organizations to offer incentives – like additional accreditations – to media outlets to assign female staff to cover their athletes or events.
In an email to On Her Turf, IOC Media Relations also confirmed that the IOC Press Committee has a working group on gender equality that is looking at “various initiatives including, amongst others, allocating a small quota of press accreditation to females in some parts of the world, plus ensuring equal gender representation – and geographic representation – in the Young Reporter Programme.”
“Images from the Olympic Games are seen by billions of people around the world, creating icons and role models for women and girls – proving that ‘if she believes it, she can be it,'” wrote the IOC in a report in Tuesday detailing its gender parity initiatives in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Stier recognizes that a shift toward 50-50 representation behind the camera won’t change overnight, but she finds the prospect motivating.
“I think that’s the challenge and the motivator for getting women to work in sports,” she said. “What we can do now is to recognize young women who want to be sports photographers early and give them the courage and confidence to really own whatever market they’re in, (and also) give them that courage and confidence by valuing their work over that idea of, ‘We’re going to value you because you’re a woman.’
“That’s where we get the change.”
Meyer said she sees a time in the future where she arrives at an Olympic Games and can gather with a veteran group of women photographers and share the same camaraderie that she sees her male counterparts enjoying.
“I’m working generally around a lot of men who have had this group and have known each other for decades,” said Meyer. “And I know that’ll be me one day, with all the women I’ve (worked alongside).
“Hopefully, I’ll know them for decades, and I’ll be 50 or 60 years old hanging out with them wherever the Olympics are.”