skip to content

The IOC was founded more than a century ago to harness the power of sport at the service of humanity. Traditionally, women were not allowed to participate in the Games, which were exclusively for men. Times have changed, and the IOC has played an important role in establishing a positive trend to enhance women’s participation in sport. Over the last 20 years, the IOC has been advocating for the participation of women at all levels, encouraging National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and International Federations (IFs) to enhance the presence of women in sport.

This section offers a historical timeline of women’s participation in Olympic sport and leadership.

Women in Rugby IOC/Ubald RUTAR

Women at the Games

The success of the IOC Women in Sport Policy is noticeable in terms of women’s participation in the Games. Specifically, together with the IFs and Organising Committees, the IOC has expanded the programme of events to include more women’s events. Since 1991, new sports seeking to be included on the Olympic programme have to include women's events.

Never have so many female Olympians taken part in the Olympic and Youth Olympic Games as today. The most remarkable increase in women’s participation has taken place within the last two decades. In London in 2012, women competed in all the sports on the Olympic programme for the first time, and the Rio 2016 Games set a new record for women’s participation in the Olympic Games: of the 11,444 athletes competing, 5,176 were women (45.2 per cent). In Rio, gender equality was also for the first time part of the Olympic social legacies, through the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ project, a community-based sports programme born from the partnership with UN Women. Read the story here.

An important milestone has been set within Olympic Agenda 2020, adopted in December 2014. Recommendation 11 compels “the IOC to work with the International Federations to achieve 50 per cent female participation in the Olympic Games and to stimulate women’s participation and involvement in sport by creating more participation opportunities at the Olympic Games.”

This is an excellent step forward. We have made history - to have equal numbers of women and men competing for the first time at the Olympic Games or Youth Olympic Games. As well as being another big step in the implementation of Olympic Agenda 2020, this is a great milestone for women's sport and for the Olympic Movement as a whole. President Bach at the IOC Executive Board meeting 21 August 2015

This progress is also the result of an increasing number of NOCs developing programmes and scholarships to narrow the gender gap in sport. Some of these projects are developed with the direct support of the IOC through Olympic Solidarity.

Women in Athletics IOC/Ubald RUTAR

Women in leadership
The IOC encourages and supports the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women Olympic Charter

The IOC fully recognises that gender parity at the Olympic Games is not enough. That is why the IOC invests in bringing more women into sports leadership.

The participants to the 5th IOC World Conference on Women and Sport in 2012 highlighted that the number of women participants in sport has grown exponentially and that many programmes have been put in place and resources committed to ensuring that women are trained and educated for leadership positions. However, they regretted that the number of women being elected in decision-making positions has not increased at the same pace as in the participation in the field of play.

The participants’ final declaration highlighted:

  • the need to bring more women into management and leadership roles;
  • the importance to widely publicise the IOC’s decision to link gender equality to good governance within the Olympic Movement;
  • the need to increase collaborations and partnerships, especially with UN organisations, to promote gender equality.

Read the Los Angeles Declaration.
Read the Final Report from Los Angeles 2012

Inspired by the Los Angeles Declaration, the current strategy of the IOC is to focus on developing necessary tools, in cooperation with its stakeholders, to ensure that women are elected into decision-making positions.

As part of its strategy, an educational programme has been developed aiming at helping women stand for elections. Since 2006 hundreds of women from the five continents have been trained in leadership skills and in the ability to identify and dismantle areas of discrimination. These programmes are being expanded involving young female athletes and ensuring that both men and women are targeted in new system-wide outreach programmes; and establishing a data-driven evaluation system to monitor progress.
Also as part of this effort, a gender-equality e-platform will be created to further help the Olympic Movement to fulfil its commitment.

back to top Fr