The Push for Gender Equality in Sport is Building Momentum

As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gets set to take part in the 7th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women in Sport in Gaborone, Botswana from 17 to 20 May, Chair of the IOC Women in Sport Commission Lydia Nsekera shares how the IOC is being “part of the change”.

Lydia Nsekera IOC

This October in Buenos Aires, for the first time ever, half of the athletes at the Youth Olympic Games will be women. In February at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, over 43 percent of competitors were female, a record number. Forty eight percent female representation is predicted for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. We have come a long way and should be exceedingly proud of all of these women who have helped to vault us forward.

But the push for gender equality in the Olympic Movement is not over yet, as sport should not be restricted to elite athletes. There are still, everywhere in the world, too many highly accomplished women who are refused access to sport, or socially stigmatized when they decide to excel in a sport. Similarly, women face discrimination at all levels, and continue to endure violence and abuse. Gender inequality persists among decision-making bodies, technical occupations, the media, and in the awarding of sponsorships and prizes.

The role of the IOC Women in Sport Commission, which I chair, has, since 1995, tackled the challenge of dismantling these many barriers that persist and prevent women and girls from enjoying the benefits of sport. Among other things, we work tirelessly to identify and dismantle discrimination wherever it exists; educate public opinion, particularly sports executives; and strive to encourage women into executive careers in sport. We are also engaged in a relentless fight to eradicate violence and abuse to women in sport.

Mindful of its daunting task, the Women in Sport Commission is always looking for innovative approaches. With the support of colleagues from the IOC Athletes’ Commission, we pushed for a review of all the areas where our efforts could promote gender equality in the IOC and the wider Olympic Movement.

This report, which took six months to prepare, contains 25 practical recommendations for boosting gender equality across five themes: Governance; Sport; Funding; Portrayal; and Human Resources. While all five areas are incredibly important—and together they form one holistic goal of promoting women in sport—governance is a key theme among them. The participation of a greater number of female athletes at the Olympics and other events over recent years, as well as the numerous leadership coaching organized for future female leaders across all five continents, is a striking example of change happening from the bottom up. But we need to push it from the top down as well.

We must all rally behind the IOC’s 25 recommendations, especially recommendations 18, 19, 20 and 21 related to governance, to help us reach this goal one day. The first three recommendations focus on increasing the pipeline for female leaders at the IOC itself and at NOCs and IFs and making sure the rank and file membership is also gender-diverse. The last two recommendations call for the administrations of Olympic Movement stakeholder groups to include more women and for there to be a senior executive overseeing gender equality issues at the IOC.

This emphasis on female governance in international sport is also one of the main topics at the 7th International Working Group on Women and Sport’s (IWG’s) World Conference on Women and Sport  which will run from the 17 to the 20 May in Gaborone, Botswana. The “Let Them Lead” segment of the conference covers many of the same governance topics described above in the IOC’s recommendations. Changing the leadership landscape is also essential, as the conference description points out, because more women need to be involved in decisions regarding allocating resources and other key agenda items in sport.

Gender equality concerns all of us, women and men, old and young. After all, it is a human right and enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. And sport is a powerful platform for advancing it. Continuing the momentum started by the IOC in its gender equality recommendations and at events like the IWG Conference, we will push forward with different governing bodies and sport organisations around the world on our mission to level the playing field for female athletes, by lobbying everyone on and off the field in in sport leadership positions. That is the future.

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