Tokyo 2020: a new blueprint for the Olympic competition schedule and the visibility of women’s sport

The two weeks of Olympic coverage are a rare time when women’s sport and female athletes can make the headlines as much as their male counterparts. Increasing the number of women’s events in prime time across key territories can make a real difference in raising the visibility and prominence of women’s sport. 

Olympic cauldron lighting Tokyo 2020 2021 Getty Images

Tokyo 2020: another step forward to showcase women athletes equally on the world stage

Under the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and with the support of all stakeholders involved, a number of deliberate actions have been taken to ensure that women Olympians get more opportunities to compete during prominent Games-time broadcast slots in Tokyo.

Tokyo 2020 will feature 18 mixed events compared to 8 at London 2012; will balance the medal events for women and men on the middle and final weekends; and will see a number of International Federations (IFs) move to gender-balanced events for the first time.

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino(front) of Team Japan compete 2021 Getty Images

The middle and final weekends, and in particular the last Sunday (Day 16) of the Olympic Games, are prime global broadcasting moments. Emphasis has therefore been placed first and foremost on these prominent occasions to make the most significant improvements. In comparison to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the last Sunday of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will include a balanced number of medal events and total competition hours.

Day 16 – Total Competition Hours Comparison



Rio de Janeiro

2 hours

25 hours


17 hours

13 hours


Day 16 – Total Medals Comparison



Rio de Janeiro







Rescheduling has also helped balance the medal events for women and men on the middle and final weekends (covering Friday, Saturday and Sunday).


Final Weekend* – Total Medals Comparison



Rio de Janeiro






(Friday Day 14, Saturday Day 15, Sunday Day 16)


Middle Weekend* – Total Medals Comparison



Rio de Janeiro






(*Friday Day 7, Saturday Day 8, Sunday Day 9)


A complex exercise

Developing a competition schedule for the Olympic Games is a five-year process involving multiple stakeholders, from the IOC, IFs and Organising Committees to Rights-Holding Broadcasters and Olympic Broadcasting Services.

The IOC oversees the schedule development, coordinating the various sports requirements with the stakeholder requests and, as head of the Olympic Movement, manages the evolution of the schedules from one Games edition to the next. The IOC’s role was pivotal when, in 2017, gender balance was added to the existing decision-making criteria for the competition schedule development.

ladies hockey Great Britain versus Germany Tokyo 2020 IOC/ David Burnett

The IOC leading the way

In 2017, the IOC commissioned an expert to analyse the competition schedules of Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 and identify opportunities to equalise the number of hours of competition and the number of medal events for each day of the Olympic Games. One key take-away was, for example, that on the final day of the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 there were 27 hours of competition for the men but just two hours for the women.

Competition schedules – starting at PyeongChang 2018 – now incorporate gender balance. The aim is to have an equal number of medal finals per day, as these events often gain coverage in print and broadcast media and online. Major improvements to the total hours of competition per day (shown above) have also given women’s events equal prominence, which is reflected in TV broadcasts and online streaming.

IOC/ David Burnett

Changes have also been made to two iconic events – the women’s athletics marathon and the women’s athletics 100m final. Prior to Tokyo 2020, the women’s marathon was on the middle Sunday of the Olympic Games, scheduled that day along with 47 other sports sessions, one of which was the men’s 100m athletics final. In comparison, the men’s marathon, traditionally scheduled on the final Sunday, was up against just seven other events at Rio 2016. As for the sprints, up until Tokyo 2020, there was no build-up to have the women’s athletics 100m final as the pinnacle event of the night – unlike the men’s the following day. That has now changed in Tokyo.

The IOC continues to work closely with the organisers of future editions of the Olympic Games to continue to balance the competition schedule and offer women athletes further opportunities to showcase their talent.

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