Olympic Agenda 2020: Gender Equality?

At the 127th IOC Session in Monaco in December of 2014, the Olympic Agenda 2020 unanimously passed. The document presented 40 detailed recommendations of what the IOC argues presents “a clear picture of what the future of the Olympic Movement will look like.”.

These recommendations range from the bidding process, to sustainability, to relationships with professional leagues and sport inclusion. IOC President Thomas Bach made it very clear that he wanted the Games to be gender equal (same number of male and female athletes competing).

Specifically, Recommendation 11 states: Foster gender equality

1. 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.

2. The IOC to encourage the inclusion of mixed-gender team events.

After its publication, international sport federations (IFs) swiftly moved with their marching orders; comply or risk removal. Four IFs introduced a gender-balanced events program including rowing, canoe, shooting and weightlifting.

While six IFs, canoe, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting and weightlifting, meet gender balance in the number of male and female competitors (BMX racing, mountain biking & freestyle wrestling have already achieved this balance).

While some other IFs added mixed events and opened sports for women, the programme still remains 48.8% women, 51.2% men; a number the IOC is very proud to state is the most gender balanced Games in history.

So while the number of women participating as athletes in the Games is crawling towards equality, the number of women running the Olympic Movement remains disparagingly low. Currently there are 29 of 100 IOC members who identify as women and on the IOC Executive Board, 4 of the 15. This is not a shocking revelation. We have long seen that women are underrepresented in sports administrative positions. Olympic Agenda 2020 does make reference to gender balance with regards to the IOC membership, however, no strategy has been put into place since the documents publication in 2014.

Yet women who are involved in the Olympics are leading the way in making change, in dealing with difficult issues and creating a better sport for all.

The IOC has made no formal announcement on how they will reach this gender balance and as of now, there is no end in sight. We know that for those IOC members whose life-time membership has been grandfathered (the majority of which are men) their seats will not come up for re-election until they either step down or die.