The Australia media doesn’t hate female athletes; it only publishes what it thinks we are interested in. We are long past the point of our mainstream media acting as a true mechanism for social commentary. The sad reality is that Australians have a sick fascination with celebrating then humiliating our athletes, and we want to read about it. Let me explain.


Australia loves sport. More than sport it loves winning. And more than winning it loves scandal.


In 2008 after winning 3 gold medals in the pool at the Beijing Olympics Stephanie Rice was being celebrated as one of our brightest sporting stars. We could not get enough of her, not only had she succeeded in one of our favourite sports, but she was an attractive, charming young woman.


Weeks later, photos of Rice partying in Thailand, wearing a police uniform and looking ‘very refreshed’ were splashed across the media. What had happened to the Stephanie Rice we all loved? Absolutely nothing. Last time I checked partying wasn’t a crime. The public received equal enjoyment from celebrating Rice as we did from humiliating her. She was 20 at the time.


With only weeks to go until she competes again, Rice splits her media coverage between whether she will repeat her gold medal success and gratuitous bikini shots that are viewed with equal amounts of lust and derision.


Next week, the media will celebrate Leisel Jones as she becomes the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympic Games. She has been recognised for her contribution to our community with an Order of Australia Medal.


Yet with only a week to go until she competes, at a time when you would think we would be supporting her, we are cutting her down for her body shape. Now as a seasoned athlete she might be able to block it all out, but when she looks in the mirror after training I’m sure the thought would pop into her mind if only for just a moment, a thought that distracts her from her goal of winning gold for Australia.


Australia really is its’ own worst enemy in this sense. We want you to win gold, but we aren’t going to make it easy for you.


The pressure on our athletes is incredibly high. We expect our female Olympians to perform like world-class athletes, look like runway models and engage us like movie stars.


From a physical perspective, the expectations on our female athletes are in direct conflict with the optimisation of their performance. Female swimmers have bigger shoulders to propel them through the water, female cyclists have bigger legs to power their bikes and female weightlifters have bigger muscles to lift more weight.

The better these athletes are and as their bodies adapt to their sports, the more they move away from western society’s artificially conceived notion of female beauty. We can’t expect Anna Meares to smash Victoria Pendleton on the track looking like Miranda Kerr, yet I think deep down some of us do.


We are holding our female Australian athletes emotionally hostage. We say to them ‘win gold for your country’…but even then that might not be enough to gain you our acceptance.


This celebration/humiliation complex is simply an extension of Australia’s affinity with ‘tall poppy syndrome’. We love to celebrate our athletes, but we also enjoy humiliating them; ensuring they know it is the public who is really in control.


They say that our Australian athletes carry the ‘hopes of a nation’. They also carry the anger, insecurity and jealousy of our nation too. Whether we like to admit it or not, we treat our athletes as expendable, items to be profited from, lusted after, made fun of and perhaps even after all that…celebrated.

About The Author

Stef Hanson. Chief.

Chief and founder of WITSUP

Serious about what I do, but don’t take myself too seriously

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9 Responses

  1. Penelope

    Well written, it is disgusting how as a country we can be so vicious towards our athletes:(.

  2. Allen Cuttler

    I concur….what an accurate article, saying it as it is! A large part of the blame can be laid squarely on the shoulders of TV and radio broadcasters. Degrading followed by heroic comments flow thick and thin during games/ sport events. Theses are often personal views, that have very little, or anything to do with the game/ event. Rugby Union, cricket, cycling, you name it, and Australian athletes would be pretty disappointed with the way they were being treated. Great article…thank you.

  3. Joanne Colja

    I agree, its seems Aussie cant wait to knock someone down once they have cheered them to the top, especially females. Our athletes work so hard, they need our support not our negativity.

  4. Catherine

    Someone had to “ok” those images – shame on them!!!! Kick butt Liesel – four Olympics – what a champion!!!! Thanks for the article Matt .

  5. Sally Phelan

    Very well put. It’s only when more of us start to vocalize our objections that the media will realize this is unacceptable . The shame is that many readers/viewers etc are more than willing to buy into this crap, hence the papers keep on selling.

  6. Shari Aubrey

    Great article and love that it was written by a male. I completely agree with some of the other comments, this nonsense (disguised as some form of news or current affairs) only exists in the media as we, the Australian public, don’t stand up against it. Whether we mindlessly consume it, revel in the potential to feel better by bringing someone else down or just stay silent even though we don’t agree with it, we are all perpetuating the existence of such ‘media content’. We are not just doing an obvious injustice to our athletes, but to ourselves. We get the media we deserve, and if that’s the best we can come up with for our athletes I hang my head in shame. So kudos to our athletes, to Matt for doing something about it and writing the article and for for publishing and getting people talking. And go get em Leisel!

  7. Stef Hanson. Chief.

    I just watched an interview with Leisel Jones after her 5th in the 100m breaststroke final… Here’s a few take home messages:

    * 4 Olympics
    * 9 Olympics events in her career
    * 9 Olympic finals in her career
    * 3 Gold, 4 Silver and 1 Bronze in her career

    * “The more you tell me I can’t do something, the more I want to prove you wrong. I had a PB session straight after the comments came out. It was hurtful, but I turned it around.”

    * “Swimming is the hardest sport to get on the team. It’s down to split seconds. I earned my spot… (people) battle hard with eating disorders. I’d like to think I’ve been a good role models for athletes and women in general”


  8. Garonzatron

    Old news, I know. But this was disgusting. It seems 4 Olympics and 8 Olympics medals wasn’t enough for The Herald Sun. Disgraceful!
    Thanks so much to Matt Woods for taking such admirable initiative in writing this… a brilliant first submission from a Supportive Dude!!!


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