Levelling the field: a snapshot of how the IOC is advancing gender equality in sport

With International Women’s Day but a few days away, women’s rights, equality and inclusion are on everyone’s agenda. At the International Olympic Committee (IOC), we too are joining this global conversation and advocate better gender balance in the sporting arena and beyond.

In March, the IOC is celebrating the impetus and spotlight that the Olympic Games and sport globally offer to advancing gender equality and portraying inspirational women and girls in sport. 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. 

In 2017, it launched a comprehensive review of the current state of gender equality in the Olympic Movement, with a mandate to produce action-oriented recommendations for change. The result is the IOC Gender Equality Review Project with 25 recommendations covering areas such as participation, funding, governance and portrayal, which are focused on achieving tangible results to strengthen gender equality across the entire Olympic Movement. 

“While recent years have seen improvements in gender equality in sport, we need more, and we need to do it quickly,” said IOC Member Marisol Casado, Chair of the IOC Gender Equality Working Group, when the IOC Executive Board (EB) approved the recommendations in February 2018. “These 25 recommendations aim to make substantial change and swiftly.” 

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.

Most recently, changes to the event programme for Tokyo 2020 will see 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.

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 this regard, the IOC continues to set an example for other sporting bodies by increasing the number of women in its own decision-making positions. Female representation on IOC commissions has now risen to 42.7 per cent, a historic high that equates to a 98 per cent increase since 2013. In 2018, women held 30 more positions across the IOC’s 26 commissions than they did in 2017, with female members present on each commission, while the IOC EB has seen an increase in female members from 21.4 per cent in 2017 to 30.8 per cent in 2018. As of 1 January 2019, 33 per cent of IOC Members are women.

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.

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. IOC President Thomas Bach
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.”

Looking back to the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, there were countless examples of female and male athletes working together in the growing number of mixed events on the Olympic programme – demonstrating that a level playing field is possible.

Read the IOC Gender Equality Review Project Recommendations here

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