This MultiConnexions blog was written by Lindy Ung, MCX Content Writer
Every four years, the Olympics Games is held with great fanfare and rejoice as countries from all over the world unite once again to compete in sports which highlight the most spectacular of human achievements.
While the Olympics champions athletic performance, it is not just a celebration of sport. It is also the celebration of multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion in full display on the world stadium, reminding us of our shared humanity. It is the celebration of diverse athletes and their remarkable feats regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and physical or intellectual impairment. It is the celebration of cultural harmony as we witness the flying colours, emblems, symbols, flags, and national anthems that make our countries unique yet bring us together.
Nowhere did we see this display of diversity and inclusion more than at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, held from 23 July to 8 August, and the Paralympic Games, held from 24 August to 5 September. With many countries including Australia still being in lockdown, the Games provided welcome entertainment at home as athletes assembled in Tokyo to represent their nations. It also kicked off a relevant and wonderful opportunity for the media and marketing communications industry to showcase the representation of athletes across gender, ethnicity, age and disability, engaging exuberant sports fans and the general population worldwide.
Wu Liqun: Australian professional diving athlete
During the Tokyo Olympics alone, there were a total of 11,326 athletes from 206 countries who participated. In comparison, only 1000 athletes from 24 countries took part in the 1900 Paris Olympic Games, illuminating just how far the world has come in reflecting its global diversity. Not only did we see a beautiful representation of people from all races, ethnicities, and genders at the Tokyo Games, but we also saw them demonstrating their incredible talents and breaking records to the pride of their nations and communities back home.
Patty Mills, the leader of the Australian men’s basketball team who is of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, took home a Bronze Olympic medal for the Boomers, scoring 42 points all by himself in the final game. The 32-year-old proud Indigenous Australian, renowned Black Lives Matter advocate and charity worker marked the first time Australia won a medal of any colour in men’s Basketball program.
Sunisa Lee made history not only as the first Hmong American Olympic gymnast and the first Hmong American gold medallist, but broke barriers as the first Asian American woman to take gold in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around event on July 29. Returning home to Minnesota with her collection of gold, silver and bronze, this represented an important milestone not only for herself but for the Asian American community at a time when they felt invisible, targeted and marginalised by broader society.
For many nations, it was also a first for many achievements, historic wins and record-shattering moments, which were captured on the world stage. In a stunning celebration for India, Nareej Chopra secured the country’s first ever gold medal in athletics, while C.A. Bhavani Devi became the first Indian Fencer who was also the first Indian woman to be at the Games. The Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz won the first gold medal for her country in almost 100 years in the women’s 55kg weightlifting program. Meanwhile, Rebecca Andrade became the first Brazilian woman to win both a gold and silver medal for her country in the women’s artistic gymnastics final all-around final and in the vault category respectively.
Serving as a global platform for the largest multicultural representation on the planet, the Olympics presents a ripe, exciting and unmissable opportunity for brands, advertisers and media alike to shine a spotlight on athletes from different cultures and countries. More than two-thirds of people believe that brands that represent diversity in their ads are more trustworthy and authentic today. The Games cater to an international fanbase and spectatorship, making it an excellent way to connect with culturally diverse audiences through tailored campaigns and inclusive representation and become trusted brands in the process.
In addition to a record number of different countries and backgrounds participating in the Olympics this year, the Tokyo Games was also praised as the first gender-balanced Olympics by the International Olympics Committee with 49 per cent of women competing this year. For the first time ever, it was a requirement for all 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to have at least one female athlete and one male athlete in their teams. It was also a landmark for non-binary and transgender representation, paving the way for a more equal and gender-inclusive society.
New Zealand weightlifter Laura Hubbard became the first out transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics’ 125-year-history. This was the first time a transgender athlete was seen competing since 2015, when the IOC issued new guidelines allowing eligible women to compete in women’s events if their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.
Hubbard’s historic entry came alongside another incredible landmark for transgender representation with the Canadian footballer Quinn, who was the first openly transgender and non-binary athlete to both compete at the Olympics and win a medal. The Canadian team grabbed the first-ever gold medal for the country in the final against Sweden. Quinn’s inspiring victory conjures optimism for the future of transgender inclusion and acceptance when historical discrimination still persists against the community in sports and beyond.
As the largest sporting event on the planet, the Olympics plays a significant role in elevating the ideals of gender equality, fairness and equity by showcasing female and LQBTQ+ role models competing on an even playing field. To see this premise being achieved in the sports arena, as well as stereotypes being broken, perceptions being challenged, and knowing the stories of the athletes and how they overcame adversity to be where they are today – these mark some of the greatest appeals of watching the Olympics and Paralympics alongside the pride and patriotism we feel at watching our country’s best athletes competing. It further offers significant potential for marketers and media to engage contemporary audiences, with more than half of Australian and UK audiences wanting to see more women’s sports on TV and 66% of US fans saying they were passionate about gender equality.
Proving that age is just a number, two 13-year-old girls, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya and Brazil’s Rayssa Leal, made history when they took home the first women’s street skateboarding Olympic gold and silver medals respectively. As some of the youngest competitors in the Games, they performed impressive tricks to the amazement of the international crowd, providing hope and inspiration to the new generation of skaters. Another teenage competitor was 14-year-old diver Quan Hongchan from China, who performed two perfect dives and ended up winning gold in the women’s 10-metre platform final.
Defying age barriers on the opposite side of the age spectrum was Australian Dressage rider 66-year-old Mary Hanna who was the oldest competing Olympian in Tokyo, marking her sixth Olympics. Meanwhile, Australian and equestrian legend 62-year-old Andrey Hoy, became Australia’s oldest Olympic medallist when he won gold and silver in Tokyo and achieved an Australian record of participating in eight Games. Demonstrating that sports is not limited to the young, these athletes reveal how passion, fitness and skill pave the road to success regardless of how old an individual is.
The meeting of the young and old in the world stadium is once again a testament to the unifying power of the Olympics that marketers and brands can tap into; that no matter the signifiers which distinguish us from one another – age, gender, ethnicity and nationality – anyone can participate in the competitive spirit of the Games. And where sports have traditionally and mistakenly been perceived as an exclusive arena for the non-disabled, the Paralympics accounts for this by providing an event for athletes with physical disabilities to compete and showcase their outstanding abilities, discouraging ableism and discrimination.
For instance, Sumit Antil became the second Indian after Devendra Jhajharia to win a Paralympics gold medal in javelin throw, rewriting the world record three times and achieving the four biggest throws during the course of the final. 19-year-old Avani Lekhara also became the first Indian woman to win gold at the Paralympics in the Women’s 10m Air Rifle Shooting and the youngest Indian to win at both the Paralympics and Olympics. These are incredible achievements which highlight the remarkable skills and discipline of disabled athletes, encouraging brands and media to pour equal funding into and feature representation of disabled sportspeople in their campaigns.
The recognition of people from diverse backgrounds, along with gender and sexual orientations, and people with disabilities, epitomises the Olympics as a space where no barriers exist except to respect the rules in place and uphold sportsmanship. The Games remind us once again what can happen if we listen to and celebrate diverse stories and successes under the unifying spirit of sport. In a world still divided by racial, gender, social and economic inequality, it is a global phenomenon allowing us to transcend cultural barriers, break stereotypes, and progress nearer towards peace and solidarity.
From a marketing perspective, the Olympics has showed us that brands can learn a lot from this international event: that in an increasingly multicultural globalised society, we can no longer shy away from embracing diverse voices and inclusive messaging in our campaigns. By hiring diverse or multicultural athletes as brand ambassadors, and pursuing sponsorship opportunities and commercial deals with them, we have the exciting opportunity to connect with sports fans from different cultural groups, communities and even countries. At the same time, we can contribute to developing a more inclusive society by representing the unique stories of diverse and/or multicultural athletes. Representation matters, and we need to uplift everyone’s voices no matter their background to build bridges that facilitate cultural understanding, respect and belonging.