Gender equality through time:
at the Olympic Games

The Olympic Games have grown to be the largest, gender equal sporting event in the world.

More than a century after women first competed at the Olympic Games, female athlete numbers were close to equal with those of the men at Tokyo 2020.

The drive towards gender equality – on and off the field of play - has picked up pace in the Olympic Movement in recent years, thanks in part to progressive initiatives by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The number of women competing at the Olympic Games has increased significantly – from 34 per cent of the total at Atlanta 1996 to a new record of 48 per cent at Tokyo 2020, and a commitment to reach full gender equality for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.

In addition to being the most gender-balanced Summer Games in history, Tokyo 2020 saw the implementation of a rule change which allowed one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony. 91% of NOCs had a female flag bearer – significantly increasing the visibility of female athletes during this iconic event.

Beijing 2022 will also be the most gender balanced Olympic Winter Games to dates, with women expected to account for 45 per cent of athletes. In October 2018, the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 were the first fully gender-balanced Olympic event ever.

Women at the Olympic Games

The long road to equality

It has been a long road since the Paris 1900 Olympic Games, when the first female athletes competed in five events: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian and golf. Only 22 women took part, constituting a meagre 2.2 per cent of the 997 total competitors.

Over the past 25 years, the IOC has been encouraging and working with National Olympic Committees and International Federations (IFs) to increase female participation at the Olympic Games. Key changes have included opening up of eligibility in the various sports involved; the quota places set by the IOC and filled by the IFs; and the increase of the number of medal events for female athletes. Multiple new mixed-gender events have also been added to the further promote gender diversity and equality. Tokyo 2020 doubled the number of mixed events compared to Rio 2016, while the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will see four new mixed events on the programme.

Important steps have also been taken to balance the competition schedule. Starting in PyeongChang 2018, and continuing at Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and beyond, efforts have been made to balance the number of medal events per day and the total number of hours of competition for women’s and men’s sport.

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.

More information and statistics can be found in the “Women in the Olympic Movement” Factsheet

back to top