Not really, no.
Still shocked by Newsnight news that Team GB male rowers, even ones that didn’t get to Olympics - got BMWs. Women didn’t. Even with 3 golds.— Stephanie Flanders (@BBCStephanie) August 11, 2012
So all male GB athletes get given a free BMW yet the females, even the ones that won gold don’t? What are we? Back in the 19th century??— Jodie Normoyle (@JodieNormoyle) August 11, 2012
The claim originated from comments made on Newsnight by gold medal-winning Team GB rower Anna Watkins, specifically about the situation within the rowing team. That statement then got amplified over numerous tweets to the point where BMW were apparently giving all the men free cars and none of the women.
BMW gave a statement to the Guardian denying the claim. In short, it makes three main points:
- The gift of free cars had nothing to do with whether athletes got a medal - it was to support athletes in their training during the build up to the Games. Indeed, some of the supported athletes didn’t even make it to the Olympics.
- Out of 150 athletes supported by the scheme, almost 70 (so slightly less than half) were women. This included gold medal winners Laura Trott and Nicola Adams.
- The decision over who to sponsor wasn’t made centrally, but by local BMW dealers supporting local athletes.
Anna Watkins herself clarified her comments, backing up BMW’s claims.
To be fair to BMW plenty of female athletes got cars, it was just within the rowing team that it ended up wonky— Anna Watkins (@watkinsteamgb) August 10, 2012
Unfortunate but not deliberate. They have done a great job with the games overall.— Anna Watkins (@watkinsteamgb) August 10, 2012
It was the dealerships not the BMW HQ who chose the athletes so not a coordinated system. Lots of individual decisions all in favour of boys— Anna Watkins (@watkinsteamgb) August 10, 2012
So while there did end up being a gender disparity in terms of the support different athletes in the rowing team got, it wasn’t as a result of a policy on BMW’s part - merely a cluster of independent local decisions all going a certain way in a single specific discipline. Frankly, it would be unlikely that any such decentralised system could operate without producing occasional clusters like this. (Of course, it doesn’t rule out the possibility that individual local dealerships could have been acting in a biased way.)
While there is certainly a strong argument to be made that sponsorship funds disproportionately flow towards male sportspeople, it’s not clear that this is good evidence for that case.