1981:
First female IOC members

The integration of women into the Olympic Movement greatly accelerated in the later part of the 20th century.

In the 1960s, there had been a gradual increase. When volleyball was introduced in 1964, it was the first team sport to open its Olympic door to women. In 1968, Norma Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman chosen to light the main cauldron for the Games. There was an increase in athletics distance events, the admission of women’s rowing in 1976 and the first women’s Olympic field hockey tournament in 1980. Thereafter, the introduction of any new sport would also include women.

In 1968, Norma Enriqueta Basilio became the first woman chosen to light the main cauldron for the Games.Norma Enriqueta Basilio at the Olympic Games Mexico 1968 - © IOC

A key milestone came in 1981 when, at the International Olympic Committee Session in Baden-Baden (GER), two women were co-opted as Members for the first time.

Pirjo Häggman of Finland was twice an Olympic 400 metres finalist. She was involved with administration in her sport and also joined the newly established IOC Athletes’ Commission. Flor Isava Fonseca, an equestrian competitor in Venezuela, had hoped to qualify for the Olympic Games 1956. However, a fractured femur ended her hopes. She had been a founder of her country’s equestrian federation and had later served as presidential commissioner on sport. These two IOC Members were soon followed by others. The introduction of women’s events in cycling came at the Los Angeles Games of 1984 and, even more emblematic, a women’s marathon was staged over the classic 42 kilometres and 185 metres.

Anita DeFrantz in 1986Anita DeFrantz in 1986 - © IOC / Jean-Paul Maeder

Anita DeFrantz, a rowing bronze medallist in 1976, had been the Vice-President of the Los Angeles Organising Committee and masterminded the LA Olympic Foundation, set up to encourage participation in sport. She became an IOC Member in 1986 and, by the IOC’s centennial year of 1994, she had already been a member of the Executive Board for two years. She would later run successfully to become the first female Vice-President of the IOC.

DeFrantz was charged with leading a working group on women in sport. The aim was “a strict enforcement of the principle of equality” and, in tandem with a policy of opening the Olympic programme to women, it recognised that off the field of play “it was necessary to intensify without delay the promotion of women’s presence in sport and in its technical and administrative structures”.

The winds of change were already in evidence at the 1996 Centennial Games in Atlanta, where women’s football was introduced. Softball also made its debut, exclusively for women.

Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1932: Mollie Phillips carried the flag for Team GB. - © IOC Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1932: Mollie Phillips carried the flag for Team GB. - © IOC

Liechtenstein’s small team in 1996 included only women. This was not a first – Great Britain had sent four female skaters to the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Games, and one of them, Mollie Phillips, carried the flag. In Atlanta, Canada sent the same number of women as men and, in the Danish team, women outnumbered men.

Sydney 2000 was a major watershed, as taekwondo, triathlon and the first women’s modern pentathlon all boosted female numbers. Weightlifting, an original sport from the 1896 Games, included women for the first time. Wrestling for women followed in 2004, and the inclusion of women’s boxing in 2012 ensured the target of gender parity had been achieved.

In October 2018, the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018 became the first fully gender balanced Olympic event ever. Most recently, changes to the event programme for Tokyo 2020 saw female participation rise to a projected 48.8 per cent, with double the number of mixed events compared to Rio 2016, while Beijing 2022 will also see an increase in women’s and mixed events to reach a record 45.44 per cent female representation at a Winter Games edition.

More information

Gender equality and inclusion
Women and Sport
Gender equality is a top priority for the Olympic Movement. The two main aims are to make access to sport in general and the Olympic Games easier for female athletes, and to increase the number of women in sports administration and management.
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Gender equality through time
Women playing Rugby

The IOC has been actively promoting the advancement of gender equality in and through sport across the Olympic Movement and beyond since the 1900s. This section offers a historical timeline of women’s participation in Olympic sport and leadership.

At the Olympic Games

Within the Olympic Movement

Advocacy and Support

One of the IOC’s priorities is to actively advocate equality between men and women. The IOC provides essential tools and funding in order to achieve the Olympic Movement’s gender-equality goals.

Gender Equality Review Project

Women & Sport Awards

Support initiatives

Partnerships

Evolution of the IOC

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