The IOC Gender Equality Review Project, a joint initiative of the IOC Women in Sport and Athletes’ Commissions, was endorsed by the Executive Board in February 2018.
The Project resulted in 25 bold and action-oriented recommendations on matters related to gender parity within sport, many of which will be implemented at Tokyo 2020.
Kikkan explains that girls and women need visuals to aspire to, and the focus must remain on making female athletes and leaders within sport more visible.
When I came into cross-country skiing, Team USA had never won an Olympic medal in the sport. There was no belief system. There were no clear role models for me to look towards in terms of aspiring to reach the Olympic podium. I also spent many years on the team as the only woman.
We started to see a positive shift when our national team realised that if we invest in a group of women for a period of time, that could pay incredible dividends. But it took that commitment of someone saying, ‘we’re going to invest in you and we’re going to build the dynamic of the group’, before that supportive environment could be created.
I experienced how challenging it was to be on the World Cup tour for months at a time, away from home and alone. But then I also saw the change in dynamic, and how this helped us to win gold in the team sprint freestyle event at PyeongChang 2018, which was the first-ever Olympic medal in women’s cross-country skiing for the USA. I got to witness all phases. It’s such experiences that have inspired me in my contributions to the IOC and our push for gender equality.
Visuals to aspire to
The IOC Gender Equality Review Project was initiated in 2017 after the IOC Athletes’ Commission identified gender equality and inclusion as a huge priority for the Olympic Movement going forward. The project was all about understanding the current landscape, so that we could create strategies to target specific areas where we could really have an impact.
We wanted to raise equal participation of women in sport, but also get more women in administrative, coaching and technical positions. This was driven by what we found in our research: that women aspire to what they see. If we want to see more female athletes participating in sport, we need to see more women competing at the Games, and at international and national championships. This is the same for administrative, coaching and technical positions – we need to see more women here, too. We really believe that equal participation and representation will give all girls a visual to aspire to.
At Los Angeles 1984, just 23 per cent of the athletes competing were women. If we drop 20 years before that to Tokyo 1964, it was just 13 per cent. We’re now approaching Tokyo 2020, where it’s going to be almost 49 per cent women. By Paris 2024, we will see equal gender participation – and that is a huge accomplishment. The trend has just been going up and up, exponentially.
We’ll also see that all 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) will bring at least one woman and one man as representatives in their respective teams to the Games. Similarly, all NOCs have been encouraged to have one female and one male athlete carrying the flag during the Opening Ceremony. These will both be powerful symbols, particularly for the smaller nations who are trying to stimulate women’s participation in sport. Tokyo 2020 will be the first Games where these new rules will be truly implemented, and we’ll get to see the impact that has over the next few Olympic quadrennials.
We really believe that equal participation and representation will give all girls a visual to aspire to.
Telling women’s stories is not only the right thing to do, but it’s successful. It’s so powerful for girls to see what the path looks like and to realise that you don’t have to be superhuman to get involved.
Tell women’s stories
We need to look more critically at why girls are dropping out of sport. We know that the media is a huge part of why that happens, and we are pushing for balanced portrayal across our channels. Sport becomes so much about body image, and we need more girls to see the powerful, strong, graceful female athletes who are proud of their body and what it can do.
Since the introduction of the Olympic Channel, we have a platform to share the stories of our Olympians, not just at the Games, but the four years in between. We’ve found so many inspirational stories of female athletes, particularly from smaller countries, who have gone into sport, succeeded, and become leaders and role models. Telling women’s stories is not only the right thing to do, but it’s successful. It’s so powerful for girls to see what the path looks like and to realise that you don’t have to be superhuman to get involved.
Never be satisfied
We can never be satisfied. We’ve made incredible progress, but there is still so much to do. It’s about having that creative mindset of asking ourselves: how can we do better? We need to take the time every so often to stop and assess what’s going on around us. It’s easy to think that because Paris 2024 will have equal participation, we will have solved the problem. But there will always be more we can do.
The real work that comes next is on the coaching, technical officials and administrative side. While we’ve made incredible gains in this area – 38 per cent of IOC members are now women – we still lack female presidents for international federations and NOCs. Coaching is a hard nut to crack, too. With the way women need to balance coaching with family life and the demands of often being alone in the sporting world, we have to reinvent the model. We have to create a system that allows women to come into sport and collaborate, connect with and support one another. This is important because the next vision for girls and women coming through should not only be to participate in sport but to also take on key roles as entourage members and within sporting organisations, which will make our whole ecosystem stronger at all levels.
Within the IOC Athletes’ Commission, I’ve already seen issues like support around maternity being discussed. We’re having those conversations more, and more of our top female athletes are finding that they can now blend family and sport. That’s where we need to be as a sporting movement, and we wouldn’t be having these conversations without women living these same situations day-to-day leading the drive for change.
Real data to work with
One of the benefits of the IOC Gender Equality Review Project is that we now have real data we can work with. As we look forward, we’ve identified the key areas to address in promoting gender equality, and increasing the number of female coaches and technical officials is a priority. We’ve achieved great success in pushing for equal participation at the Games, but we really have to put our efforts into increasing the opportunities for women as coaches and high-level technical officials.
A year from now, we will have even more data to measure ourselves on. We can see what we’re doing and ask ourselves: is it working? If it’s not, what can we learn? If it is, how can we disseminate that as best practices for other parts of the movement? There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we can continue to make incremental changes. The more progress we make, the more that snowball starts rolling.