The challenge

The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) represents both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games movements in New Zealand.

The organisation’s aim is to inspire excellence and pride in New Zealanders and enable New Zealand’s elite athletes to achieve on the world’s stage. Partnering with Isentia, NZOC uses our insights to advocate for more balanced reporting of female athletes.

In order to continue its extensive work advocating for the advancement of women to leadership roles in the New Zealand sporting sector, the NZOC asked Isentia to examine gender balance in sports reporting during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

NZOC Image

Our approach

We designed a project that analysed all mainstream media mentions of New Zealand athletes across a 14-month period covering the build-up to the Olympics, the event itself, and the aftermath. 

The analysis focused on imagery, narrative and the language associated with athletes, examining these factors in reporting on male athletes compared to female athletes.

Isentia analysed over 70,000 interactions with domestic-violence themed content in the lead-up to and during the 2016 White Ribbon anti-domestic violence campaign using Facebook topic data.


On the basis of this research, the NZOC was able to make two key recommendations to help address the skew uncovered within the data.

These were: to encourage the IOC to use the findings to develop a global measurement framework and benchmark for the representation of female athletes; and to share the data with local sporting committees and bodies to drive change in the media.

The NZOC will also use the findings as the basis for educating journalists and journalism students, and provide further support to sporting organisations to equip female athletes with media training, to help them create and maintain relationships with journalists and media outlets.

28,420 Total Olympic athlete mentions analysed

This project won a gold AMEC award in 2017 for Most Impactful Client Recommendations.

"We know awareness leads to change, and it is our hope that this research will serve as a catalyst to more balanced reporting. We would like to encourage sports media and communications teams to consider the words and images they are using, thinking about where articles are placed and who is speaking. Would the opposite gender be portrayed in the same way? Gorgeous Mum or Inspirational Athlete? The choices matter."

Ashley Abbott, Public Affairs and Communications Director at NZOC