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International Women’s Day is celebrated in numerous countries around the world on 8 March. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements, regardless of differences, be they national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is a chance to look at past struggles and achievements, but above all to prepare for the future, and the opportunities ahead for future generations of women. The IOC and the sports movement in general are well placed to recognise the extraordinary qualities of the men and women who have inspired so many people, both on and off the field of play, thereby helping to increase both participation and opportunities for women in sport.
In Rio in 2016, a new generation of female champions, Olympic mums and established successful female athletes wrote history, beat records, defied stereotypes and won total recognition, both in their respective countries and within sports administrations. Many of them thus joined the ranks of sports heroines, which are growing constantly, because sport remains a major tool for promoting gender equality. Last summer, for instance, more than 45 per cent of those competing were women, and 51 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) had more women than men in their delegations.
Through their exploits, fantastic female champions, like US gymnast Simone Biles, the Brazilian judoka from the favelas Rafaela Silva, US cyclist and mother Kristin Armstrong, Japanese wrestler Kaori Icho, German rider Isabel Werth, Hungarian kayaker Danuta Kozak, Ethiopian distance runner Almaz Ayana and many others, thrilled the Brazilian audiences and millions of television viewers. They inspired the world, far away from the sports field.
But the road has been a long one! In fact, the main change in the Olympic Games since the first modern edition in 1896 has been their feminisation. In Athens at the end of the 19th century, the competitions were for men only. A few women took part in the 1900 Games in Paris. British tennis player Charlotte Cooper became the first female Olympic champion in history, and since then, women have written some of the finest pages of Olympic history.
This long evolution is also true of the Winter Games, leading to a situation of near-parity today. In 2000 and 2010 respectively, the last “bastions” of male sport were opened to women, namely wrestling, pole vault and boxing at the Summer Games, and bobsleigh and ski jumping at the Winter Games. Today, if a new sport or discipline is introduced, like rugby sevens for Rio 2016, there are automatically men’s and women’s events.
But things don’t end at the edge of the playing field! In Rio in 2016, the IOC also supported the “One Win Leads to Another” initiative with UN Women and the Always brand of Worldwide TOP Partner P&G. This project was aimed at 2,500 Brazilian girls aged from 12 to 14, based on a series of sports programmes to develop leadership skills among girls and young women and increase their decision-making influence in all areas of their lives.
The Olympic Movement’s efforts are focused not just on having more women on the field of play at the Games. It is also pursuing the goal of increasing the number of women in decision-making bodies. The IOC is working hard to address this issue from several angles, particularly by setting up training, mentoring and networking programmes for women.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, more than 65 representatives of international and national sports federations, NOC delegates and recognised experts were in Lausanne to kick off the Second IF Women in Leadership Forum. Organised jointly by the IOC and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), it was aimed at adopting concrete measures to expand the possibilities for women to take up positions of responsibility at all levels of sport (coaching, training, refereeing, etc.) in response to the appeal launched by the IOC Executive Board last December for the whole Olympic Movement to ensure that women hold at least 30 per cent of decision-making positions by 2020.
As illustrated magnificently by the video you can watch on top, “we have come a long way, but the journey is not yet over. Well done ladies, on this 8 March!”