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Will Women Olympians Ever Become Equal With Men?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recently developed a Gender Equality Review project that contains 25 recommendations to promote gender equality, reduce discrimination, and encourage a higher participation rate among women athletes. 

The topics that the IOC is making recommendations for are: Olympic Games participation, competition formats and technical, uniforms, equipment/apparatus, technical officials, coaches, venues and facilities, competition schedule, medical, safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse in sport, career transition, balanced media portrayal of both genders, organizing committees of Olympic Games, communications partnerships, funding requirement, NOC and IF initiatives, equal payments, governance leadership development, IOC membership electoral processes, NOC and IF electoral processes, roles and responsibilities, inclusive organizational culture and diversity in leadership, monitoring and tracking system, gender equality leadership, and communications plan.

The IOC seeks to increase female participation at the Olympic Games to 50 percent.

Angela Ruggiero, IOC Athlete Commission chair, explained how she faced discrimination as a young girl because she wanted to play hockey – traditionally a boys’ sport.

“I was told I couldn’t be on teams, told I couldn’t participate and called names, just a lot of hurdles to play the sport that I love,” said Ruggiero.

Ruggiero also stressed that gender equality focuses on both boys and girls – it’s about giving both genders equal opportunities and access to sports.

In the report, IOC Gender Equality Working Group member Brian Lewis discussed the urgency of gender equality in sports.

“Everyone should have the same access to, and opportunities in, sport. As sports administrators, we have the responsibility to ensure that access, which is the equal right of boys and girls alike, and to make those opportunities through our sporting programmes and education,” said Lewis. “We need a sense of urgency. The time is now.”

These changes affect people involved within all areas of the Olympics – athletes, officials, commissions, federations, and executives.

It seems the IOC’s hard work paid off at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. About 43 percent of competitors were women, and female athletes received increased media exposure.

The Advancing Women in Sport platform, another IOC initiative, includes an activity feed for informal story sharing, career tools, discussion threads, gender equality essentials, and inspirational stories for women athletes.

Gender equality in sports unfortunately isn’t a new issue. It has endured for quite some time and it is no surprise the Olympics doesn’t have an equal percentage of female athletes. The Olympic Games traditionally only included men because the founder, Pierre de Coubertin, believed women were genetically inferior to men. Women didn’t even compete in the Olympic Games until 1900.

Furthermore, due to societal stigmas, tradition designates certain sports as men’s, women’s, or co-ed. For instance, dance and field hockey are traditionally female sports, while football and baseball are traditionally male sports. On that note, girls may also fear backlash – being called “butch” or other names that signify masculinity – for participating in sports. Changing the culture of sports is an important step to increasing the number of women athletes.

All in all, the IOC has made tremendous progress and inches closer to parity in sports, but women athletes still remain unequal to men. Looking toward the future, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo may set the stage for new gender equality initiatives.

Featured Image by U.S. Army on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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