Hearts pound and crowds cheer as Olympic athletes inch closer to the victories they’ve been training for their entire lives. Does their gender matter?
According to the International Olympics Committee, gender does matter when it comes to achieving
gender parity in the events. In last year’s Olympics in Rio, women competed in 47.5% of the events. For the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the IOC hopes to have women competing in 50% of the events. Maintaining gender parity in the global competition is the only way to truly practice equality and fairness, according to IOC President Thomas Bach. “Gender equality is not a women’s issue; gender equality is a human right of profound importance to everyone on earth,” said Bach. “Sport is a powerful platform to foster gender equality and empower women and girls both on and off the field of play. This is a key mission of the International Olympic Committee.”
The restrictions placed on the number of events and the number of total participating athletes complicate the process of meeting the gender parity goal. However, a number of international Olympics oversight federations have proposed new mixed-gender events for the IOC’s consideration.
For example, the International Weightlifting Federation proposed adding another women’s weight class, which would make the number of men’s weight classes and women’s weight classes the same. On a similar note, the International Shooting Sport Federation suggested replacing three men’s events with mixed-team events. Also, the federations governing Taekwondo, judo, and archery propose the addition of mixed-team competitions.
Moreover, the federation regulating swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, open water swimming and water polo, the International Swimming Federation, proposed adding a mixed-gender 400-meter relay. This relay wouldn’t be the first of its kind to see the Olympic light of day. Back in the 2015 Olympics in Kazan, Russia, the event had its historical and controversial debut.
Five-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin spoke to The New York Times about the mixed-gender relay, saying, “I think it’s so fun. Honestly, I think it’s a big testament to swimming for combining men and women competing together. I think that that’s so cool to have that opportunity.” When it comes to other people’s frustration with the event, Franklin mentioned how new the event is, noting, “People are still trying to figure out ‘How do we swim this?’”
While many found the mixed-gender relay to be a thrilling new addition, others questioned the athletic value it contributed to the games. US national team director, Frank Busch, opposed the additional relay, claiming that the addition lacks logistical sense. “I have concerns about adding relay events and also adding individual events while keeping the roster sizes the same. The IOC has been insistent on keeping participant numbers at the same level,” said Busch. “It doesn’t make sense to add relay events in this dynamic.” Still, according to The New York Times, Busch admits that the mixed-gender relay brought a lot of joy to people. “It seems like the kids kind of like it. If they sort of like it, let’s give them something they like.”
The IOC will make a decision on the events of the upcoming games in July of this year.
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