Since 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Federations (IFs) have participated in an annual forum with a view to closing the gender gap on and off the field of play. With the 5th IF Gender Equality Forum cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a series of six online sessions opened yesterday, with the first two intended to increase female representation in governing bodies and improve women’s representation in decision-making positions.
Like the four previous Gender Equality Forums, held annually, the webinar series is hosted by the IOC in collaboration with the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF). By sharing examples of concrete initiatives, the series aims to encourage and support IFs in embracing change and implementing action plans to address gender equality in sport.
The online sessions are open to International Federations and national associations, and cover the following topics: leadership (governance, coaches and technical officials), safeguarding, and removing gender bias from all aspects of portrayal.
The first two sessions on leadership that ran yesterday were attended virtually by some 200 participants, including IF presidents, executive board members, secretaries general, chief executives, committee members and development managers.
Marisol Casado, IOC Member and Chair of the ASOIF Diversity and Gender Equality Group, opened the webinar by saying: “Today there is a wide-ranging call for greater inclusivity and equality, and we must take the opportunity this current crisis provides to rebuild and innovate our progress towards a more inclusive, gender-equal and sustainable Olympic Movement.”
“Throughout my career and in my various roles, I have seen that the best work can be done when it is done as a team. When we work together, we have access to different ways of thinking, and therefore more ideas.”
Casado pointed out that some fundamental goals have already been reached: “We have achieved gender balance in athlete participation at the Olympic Games, with a competition schedule much more balanced to ensure equal exposure for all athletes. Several sports organisations, including the IOC, have reached the minimum target of 30 per cent female representation in their governing bodies, and the IOC guidelines for gender-balanced portrayal have been widely adopted to ensure equal opportunities.”
Leadership – “Entrenching Gender Equality in Electoral Processes”
The first session, called “Entrenching Gender Equality in Electoral Processes”, focused on the minimum target of 30 per cent female representation in governing bodies. Recommendation 20 of the IOC Gender Equality Review Project states that “Olympic Movement partners should review their electoral processes with a view to developing strategies for gender-balanced representation in their governance bodies”. Participants were presented with two case studies of International Federations that have successfully entrenched gender equality in their policies and statutes.
World Athletics – “Time for Change” initiative
Stephanie Hightower, Gender Leadership Taskforce Chair at World Athletics, was instrumental in the development and implementation of the “Time for Change” initiative, which resulted in World Athletics entrenching incremental gender targets in its constitution in order to achieve gender-equal representation by 2027.
Hightower explained how, through global and regional women's leadership and administration seminars and symposiums, World Athletics ensured that a robust pipeline of eligible female candidates was available for election, allowing the Federation to meet its targets.
She said: “In 2017, World Athletics appointed a Gender Equality Taskforce, which came up with a “framework for change” to promote a cultural change and embed gender-equality objectives and principles in the mission and in the general restructuring of the organisation. This activity led to the creation of a strategy and clear gender-based actions to be undertaken by World Athletics.”
World Rowing – Leading by example
Tricia Smith, Vice-President of World Rowing, explained how the Federation has been encouraging equal participation across policies and programmes, with member federations being asked to put forward gender-equal candidates for development activities organised by World Rowing.
World Rowing is leading by example, with women making up 40 per cent of its Executive Committee and Council members.
Smith said: “FISA is taking a sustainable approach to entrench gender equality, diversity and inclusion in policies and statutes, encouraging a cultural shift to address historical challenges. The commitment started in 2012, when FISA agreed to take steps towards increasing the number of women in rowing and to ultimately reach equality in numbers of participants and events at the Olympic Games and World Championships. We also realised that women needed an extra boost in certain areas, so we developed programmes to address those gaps, and we constantly monitor the progress with regular tracking and analysis.”
Leadership – “Developing the Pipeline of Female Governance Candidates”
Away from the field of play, a longstanding challenge for organisations is identifying and recruiting women who are interested in taking on governance roles. The second session was intended to offer IFs practical guidance, and featured initiatives and mechanisms to improve women’s representation in decision-making positions, including sponsorship programmes and women’s networks.
Participants were presented with two case studies of mechanisms that have been implemented by IFs.
FIS – Creating networking opportunities for women
FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis explained how the FIS introduced gender-balance targets for committees, hence giving women access to the networking opportunities needed to run for election. She also demonstrated how workshops for emerging female leaders can build empowerment and create a network for like-minded females within the organisation.
Lewis noted that, while the FIS is very strong on the field of play with balanced sports and rather equal media coverage that is focused on athlete performance, it is unfortunately not the same situation “around the tables”, and there is still room for improvement.
Part of this work for improvement has been moving swiftly forward since the FIS launched its Gender Equity Working Group in 2018 to address gender balance, review FIS policies, regulations and rules, and highlight the areas where gender equality needs to be promoted.
The working group has established five goals it wishes to achieve in five years. Lewis highlighted one of these goals, which is key to moving towards gender equality: “Establish realistic goals and define practical targets.”
The FIS is aiming to become a role model with gender-balance initiatives and activities. Part of the goal consists of working with its national federations, motivating them to be active on gender equality and giving them support when needed. Lewis added that it was the IFs’ role to “give them a tool, encourage them!”
FIBA – “Time-Out Europe Career Transition Programme”
Elisabeth Cebrian-Scheurer, Head of Women in Basketball and Special Projects at FIBA, and Radmila Turner, the IF’s Head of National Federations and Sport as well as Youth and Anti-Doping for Europe, presented Time-Out Europe, a leadership and business programme focused on integrating elite basketball players into the labour market.
The programme aims to support athletes who are close to retirement by building competencies and confidence, thereby creating opportunities that lead directly into networks, while encouraging women to stay connected to sport after retirement. As Turner pointed out: “By doing this programme with the athletes, we are hoping to secure their dedication to the sport.”
FIBA asked its national federations to make a first selection of players for the programme. The programme is offered systematically to one female and one male participant from each member federation in Europe.
Plans to further develop “player support programmes” are underway within FIBA, which is working with the national federations to open discussions on the topic, build projects and give support.
Keep the conversation going
Each case study was welcomed by the audience and generated great discussions. Participants are being encouraged to carry on the conversation on the IOC LinkedIn community group dedicated to gender equality. The group has already gathered some 800 like-minded individuals, all working to advance gender equality in sport.
The subsequent sessions of the webinar series will be held on 14 September (Leadership – Developing a Pool of Coaches and Technical Officials) and 23 September (Safe Sport and Portrayal).
The IOC’s commitment to Gender Equality
With 39 women on board – representing 37.5 per cent of its membership, versus 21.3 per cent in 2013 – the IOC is demonstrating its commitment to promoting gender equality within its leadership. This is a tangible result of the implementation of the Gender Equality Review Project’s governance-related recommendation. A few months ago, the IOC announced the composition of its commissions for 2020, with 47.7 per cent of positions held by women, a concrete outcome of the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms.