Gender equality in sport

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Women’s rights, equality and inclusion are on everyone’s agenda. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also joining this global conversation and advocates better gender balance in the sporting arena and beyond. As part of this, we are proud that Lausanne 2020 will be the first winter Olympic event to have the same number of athletes of both genders.

Over the last 30 years, the IOC has made significant progress towards the goal of gender equality in sport, with the adoption of Olympic Agenda 2020 reaffirming its aim of achieving not only equality in terms of the athletes competing at the Games, but also in seeing more women appointed to leadership roles across the Olympic Movement. 

Creating more opportunities

There are already tangible results of this great progress in the sporting arena, with the growth of female participation at the Olympic Games being the most visible results of the IOC’s efforts to improve gender equality.

The number of women competing at the Games has increased significantly over the last 30 years – from 26.1 per cent at Seoul 1988 to a record 45.2 per cent at Rio 2016. Last October also saw a historic milestone as the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018 was the first fully gender balanced Olympic event ever – both on the field of play, and within the Organising Committee and across the sporting coverage of the women’s and men’s events.

One of the biggest drivers of this change has been the IOC’s commitment to creating more opportunities for female athletes by expanding the Olympic programme to include more women’s events. Since 1991, any new sports seeking to be included on the Olympic programme have been required to include women’s events, while the IOC has also worked closely with the International Sports Federations (IFs) to stimulate women’s involvement in sport through more participation opportunities at the Olympic Games.

The IOC is not only seeking to achieve statistical parity, but also understands that every opportunity provided for women’s sport and female athletes in the Olympic Games has a flow-on impact for the promotion of gender equality, and the opportunities that are given to women’ athletes around the world.

However, as efforts to increase the number of events available to women at the Games have helped boost the participation of female athletes, the Gender Equality Review Project has also underlined a number of other issues related to the field of play that still need to be addressed, including ensuring equality in terms of competition formats, uniforms, apparatus and coaches.

Building pathways to leadership

The percentage of women in leadership positions in governing and administrative bodies in sport has remained relatively low. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions within the Olympic Movement has therefore been highlighted as one of the major targets of the IOC.

In addition to increasing female representation within its own decision-making positions, the IOC has also initiated leadership forums and training programmes for women in IFs, National Federations and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to help prepare those in middle and senior management positions to stand for election to leadership positions.

A team effort

While great advancements have been made in the fight for gender equality in sport, especially on the field of play, the IOC continues to push for more progress in other areas, with the Gender Equality Review Project providing a set of action-oriented recommendations that will help move the Olympic Movement further towards its ultimate goal of removing the barriers preventing women and girls from participating in sport at all levels. For this to happen, however, it will require “a truly team effort” according to IOC President Thomas Bach.

“The IOC and many Olympic Movement stakeholders have already taken great steps; we are closing the gender gap in many aspects of sport, and we congratulate the IFs and NOCs that have already taken effective action,” he says. “However, there is always more that can be done, and we can make progress only if we work together, in partnership.”