The Tokyo Olympics are supposed to be a ‘landmark in gender equality’ — are the Games really a win for women?

Tokyo will feature the most female athletes ever at an Olympics. But the Games do not have a good track record when it comes to gender equality.

The Olympics do not have a good track record when it comes to gender equality. At the end of the 19th century, when it was founded, the modern Olympic movement deliberately excluded women. Games patriarch Baron Pierre de Coubertin argued an Olympiad with women would be:

impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper.

The Tokyo Games will feature the most female athletes at an Olympics, with 48.8% of competitors set to be women.

Noting this is actually shy of 50%, this is nonetheless up from 45% at the 2016 Rio Games and 44.2% at London 2012. At the Tokyo Paralympic Games, 40.5% of athletes will be women, compared to 38.6% at Rio.

To put this into a historical context, at the first modern games in Athens in 1896, women were banned from competing (although there are reports at leaset one woman ran the marathon).

At the 1900 Paris Olympics, women were allowed to compete, but they were only 22 out of 997 competitors. Women were also restricted to a select number of five “ladies” events: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian and golf.

Women also make up significant proportions of the IOC organisation, but the numbers remain low at the leadership level. For example:

  • IOC membership (recruited by the IOC itself) is 37.5% female
  • the IOC executive board is 33.3% female
  • women account for 47.8% of the members of the IOC’s commissions, which advise the organisation on specific issues, such as ethics, science and athletes
  • more than half (53%) of the IOC’s administrative employees are female.

Some Olympic leaders also have a long way to go in terms of the way they view women and women in sport administration. In February this year, the head of the Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee, Yoshiro Mori, resigned after complaining to a Japanese Olympic Committee meeting that women talk too much.

Source: The Tokyo Olympics are supposed to be a ‘landmark in gender equality’ — are the Games really a win for women?

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