'Aged' and 'unmarried' among most common words used to describe women in sport, study finds


Language around women in sport focuses disproportionately on the appearance, clothes and personal lives of women, research has found.

The study, conducted by Cambridge University Press, also found that, in contrast, men are referred to in terms of sporting prowess.

Most notably, common word associations or combinations for women included "aged", "older", "pregnant" and "married" or "unmarried".

Jess Ennis, left and Mo Farah, right, holding the GB flag
Female athletes receive less airtime than men (PA)

In stark contrast, words for men in sport were more likely to be adjectives like "fastest", "strong", "real" and "great".

Women have also been depicted as taking part, rather than competing to win in sport. The word "men" or "man" is associated with verbs such as "beat", "win", "dominate" and "battle", whereas "woman" or "women" is associated with verbs such as "compete", "participate" and "strive".

(Stephen Pond/PA)
Women are depicted as "taking part" rather than actively competing (Stephen Pond/PA)

The research looked at over 160 million words within the domain of sport using the Cambridge English Corpus, a multibillion-word collection of written and spoken English curated from sources such as social media, news and recorded conversational speech.

Not only was the language used to describe women in sport different, men were also mentioned almost three times more often than women in relation to sport.

An Olympic medal from 1900 (IOC Wire/PA)
Women were first allowed to compete at the Olympics in 1900 (IOC Wire/PA)

"It's perhaps unsurprising to see that women get far less airtime than men and that their physical appearance and personal lives are frequently mentioned," said Language Researcher at Cambridge University Press Sarah Grieves.

The team will be continuing its research throughout the Rio Olympics to track any changes in language used as the competition progressed.