News06 Mar 2024

New research shows shift as World Athletics continues to address media coverage gender imbalance


Research into media coverage

New research has identified a shift in gender balance when exploring differences in representation between female and male athletes in online sports news. However, it also highlights the biases that still exist in the coverage of female athletes and that more work needs to be done in this area.

Following a pilot project in 2022, further analysis was undertaken to better understand the gap between news coverage of female and male athletes during the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23. This formed part of a World Athletics #WeGrowAthletics pledge linked to International Women’s Day, to do more to tackle inequality and #EmbraceEquity.

The continuation of this work involved bespoke and fully independent research by content and creative agency Redtorch, exploring the differences in news representation between genders in sport, as well as possible links with social media followings of athletes.

Overall, ‘Google news search’* results reflected a slight gender balance shift. A 4% boost in female representation, compared to results from research undertaken during the 2022 World Athletics Championships, took the ratio to 46% female to 54% male.

And while female athletes boast a 14% larger social media following (57% female / 43% male) across the board, they still feature less prominently in overall news coverage.

Redtorch research 1

Regarding specific disciplines, female running athletes produced a larger volume of ‘Google News Search’ results than their male counterparts, which is more in line with their popularity among fans on social media.

Outside of running however, the gender disparity among the volume of ‘Google News Search’ results for female jumps, throws and road racing athletes is still evident.


Contrary to the overall results, female running athletes (track disciplines, including hurdles, steeplechase and relays) generated a higher volume of news search results, aligning more closely with their popularity on social media.

Redtorch research 2

Gender differences in searches for ‘best athlete’ for the running disciplines improved compared to the 2022 World Championships, which correlated with the increased online news coverage of women’s disciplines in 2023.

A larger proportion of female running athletes appeared in an image carousel produced by Google when searching for the ‘best athlete’ in the 200m and 800m events. However, that trend was not consistent across all other athletics disciplines and gender disparities remain.


While female jumps athletes had a much higher number of social media fans (76% female / 24% male split), their ‘Google Search’ news volume remained under-represented. For male athletes the total athlete ‘Google News Search’ increased by 1% compared to 2022, to 57%, while for female athletes there was a 1% decrease, to 43%.

Although searches in Brazil, India and Spain produced positive results in the volume of searches for female jumps athletes, often linked to the success of athletes from respective countries and continental areas, large gender disparities in many countries are still apparent.


Similarly, despite the same level of popularity on social media for female throws athletes (76% female / 24% male split), the gender disparity in news volume was still evident. While for female athletes there was a 3% increase in news volume compared to 2022, that figure still sat at 35%, compared to 65% for male athletes.

Improvements in the increased number of female athletes were present in throwing discipline searches, but only the discus throw returned more female athletes.

Road racing

The largest gender disparity in ‘Google search’ news volume occurred among road racing athletes (marathon, 20km race walk and 35km race walk), with 25% higher volume for male athletes vs 2022.

Redtorch research 3

The study’s authors concluded: “The overall improvement in gender parity of news search results, especially among running athletes, demonstrates the accelerating progress in reshaping media coverage of female athletes. These findings solidify a benchmark, as well as highlight the tangible impact of World Athletics’ continuous efforts. We remain dedicated to collaborating with World Athletics to drive further enhancements for equitable representation in media narratives.”

In an effort to take tangible changes in this area and ensure that female athletes receive the recognition they deserve in online news searches, World Athletics has shared this data with Google to support their teams’ ongoing work in further addressing gender imbalances in their search engine results. We will continue to provide relevant research to platforms to help ensure athletics’ gender balance on the field of play is also represented outside the field of play.

Through our research and efforts in this area, World Athletics continues to lead the way for gender equity in sport – including the historic election of a gender equal Council in 2023 – the first fully gender balanced supreme decision body of any international sport federation worldwide.


• The period monitored was August 2023.

• Search volume was measured for 832 athletes with an equal female/male split.

• *The number of returned news articles was obtained for each athlete by searching multiple different locations to assess differences (referred to as ‘Google News Search’ results).

• Social media followers on Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok of all athletes was collated to compare their audience size with ‘Google News Search’ results.

• The first search result returned a list of top athletes for each discipline – this was evaluated to determine gaps between the number of female/male athletes listed.