Participation of women in the Olympics

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The rate of participation of women in the Olympics has been increasing since their first participation in 1900. Some sports are uniquely for women, other are contested by both sexes, while some older sports remain for men only. Studies of media coverage of the Olympics consistently show differences in the ways in which women and men are described and the ways in which their performances are discussed. The representation of women on the International Olympic Committee has run well behind the rate of female participation, and it continues to miss its target of a 20% minimum presence of women on their committee.

History of women at the Olympics

1900

Charlotte Cooper

The first Olympic Games to feature female athletes was the 1900 Games in Paris.[1] Hélène de Pourtalès of Switzerland became the first woman to compete at the Olympic Games and became the first female Olympic champion by being a part of the winning team in the first 1 to 2 ton sailing event on May 22, 1900.[2][3] Briton Charlotte Cooper became the first female individual champion by winning the women's singles tennis competition on July 11, 1900.[4] Tennis and golf were the only sports where women could compete in individual disciplines. 22 women competed at the 1900 Games, 2.2% of all the competitors.[5] Alongside sailing, golf and tennis, women also competed in croquet.

1904–1916

In 1904, women's golf and tennis were removed from the programme. The only women's event was archery, with only American athletes.[6] Six female athletes competed in St. Louis, 16 fewer than the 1900 games.[7] London 1908 had 37 female athletes who competed in archery, tennis and figure skating.[5] Stockholm 1912 featured 47 women and saw the addition of swimming and diving, as well as the removal of figure skating and archery. The 1916 Summer Games were due to be held in Berlin but were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.[8]

1920–1928

Halina Konopacka

In 1920, 65 women competed at the Games. Archery was re-added to the programme. Paris 1924 boasted a record 135 female athletes. Fencing was added to the programme and archery was removed. 1924 saw the inception of the Winter Olympics where women competed in the sole sport of figure skating. Herma Szabo became the first ever female Winter Olympic champion after she won the ladies' singles competition.[9] At the summer Games held the same year in Paris, women's fencing made its debut with Dane, Ellen Osiier winning the inaugural gold.[10] At the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz, no changes were made to any female events. Fifteen year old Sonja Henie won her first of three Olympic gold medals.[11] The summer Games of the same year saw the debut of women's athletics and gymnastics.[12] In athletics, women competed in the 100 metres, 800 metres, 4 × 100 metres relay, high jump and discus throw. The 800-metre race was controversial as many competitors were reportedly exhausted or were unable to complete the race.[13] Consequentially, the IOC decided to drop the 800 metres from the programme, and not reinstated until 1960.[14] Halina Konopacka of Poland became the first female Olympic champion in athletics after winning the discus throw.[15] At the gymnastics competition, the host Dutch team won the first gold medal for women in the sport.[16] Tennis was removed from the program.

1932–1936

No new events were added or removed for the 1932 Winter Games held in Lake Placid. For the Summer Games of the same year, the javelin throw was added and gymnastics was removed. At the 1936 Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, women competed in the alpine skiing combined event for the first time with German Christl Cranz winning the gold medal.[17] At the Summer Games of the same year held in Berlin, gymnastics returned to the programme for women.

1940–1944

The 1940 Winter Olympics due to be held in Sapporo, 1940 Summer Olympics due to be held in Tokyo, 1944 Winter Olympics due to be held in Cortina d'Ampezzo and the 1944 Summer Olympics due to be held in London were all cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. Five female Olympic athletes died due to World War II:[18]

Athlete Nation Sport Year of competition Medal(s)
Estella Agsteribbe Netherlands Gymnastics 1928 Gold medal.svg
Dorothea Köring Germany Tennis 1912 Gold medal.svgSilver medal.svg
Helena Nordheim Netherlands Gymnastics 1928 Gold medal.svg
Anna Dresden-Polak Netherlands Gymnastics 1928 Gold medal.svg
Hildegarde Švarce Latvia Figure Skating 1936

1948–1956

Austrian alpine skier Erika Mahringer competing in the downhill at the 1948 Games in St. Moritz.

At the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, women made their debut in the downhill and slalom disciplines, having only competed in the combined event in 1936. In 1948, women competed in all of the same alpine skiing disciplines as the men. Barbara Ann Scott of Canada won the ladies' singles figure skating competition, marking the first time a non-European won the gold medal in the event.[19] At the same year's Summer Games held in London, women competed in canoeing for the first time.[20] The women competed in the K-1 500 metres discipline.[20] At the 1952 Winter Olympics held in Oslo, women competed in cross-country skiing for the first time. They competed in the 10 kilometre distance. At the Summer Games of the same year held in Helsinki, women were allowed to compete in equestrian for the first time.[21] They competed in the dressage event which was co-ed with the men.[21] Danish equestrian Lis Hartel of Denmark won the silver medal in the individual competition alongside men.[22] At the 1956 Winter Olympics held in Cortina d'Ampezzo, the 3 × 5 kilometre relay cross country event was added to the programme. The 1956 Summer Games held in Melbourne, had a programme identical to that of the prior Olympiad.[note 1]

1960–1968

Helga Haase

The 1960 Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley saw the debut of speed skating for women.[23] Helga Haase, representing the United Team of Germany won the inaugural gold medal for women in the competition after winning the 500 metres event.[24] The programme remained the same for the 1960 Summer Games held in Rome. At the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, the women's 5km cross-country skiing event debuted.[25] At the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, Volleyball made its debut with the host Japanese taking the gold.[26] At the 1968 Winter Olympics held in Grenoble, women's luge appeared for the first time. Erika Lechner of Italy won the gold after East German racers Ortrun Enderlein, Anna-Maria Müller and Angela Knösel allegedly heated the runners on their sleds and were disqualified.[27] Whether the East Germans actually heated their sleds or if the situation was fabricated by the West Germans remains a mystery.[28] At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, women competed in shooting for the first time.[29] The women competed in mixed events with the men and were allowed to compete in all seven disciplines.[29]

1972–1980

The 1972 Winter Olympics held in Sapporo saw no additions or subtractions of events for women. At the 1972 Summer Olympics held in Munich, archery was held for the first time since 1920.[30] At the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, ice dancing was added to the programme.[note 2] Women competed in three new events at the 1976 Summer Games held in Montreal. Women debuted in basketball and handball with the Soviet Union winning gold in both.[31][32] Women also competed for the first time in rowing, participating in six of the eight disciplines.[33] There were no new events for women at the 1980 Winter Olympics held in Lake Placid. At the 1980 Summer Games held in Moscow, women's field hockey debuted. The underdog Zimbabwean team pulled off a major upset, winning the gold, the nation's first ever Olympic medal.[34] However, these Olympics were marred by the US-led boycott of the games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[35]

1984–1992

The United States competing against South Korea in handball at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

The women's 20 kilometre cross-country skiing event was added to the programme for the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo. Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen of Finland dominated the cross-country events, winning gold in all three distances.[36]

Multiple new events for women were competed in at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Synchronized swimming made its debut, with only women competing in the competition.[37] The host Americans won gold in both the solo and duet events.[38] Women also made their debut in cycling, competing in the road race.[39] This event was also won by an American, Connie Carpenter.[39] Also, rhythmic gymnastics appeared for the first time with only women competing. Canadian Lori Fung won the competition.[40] The women's marathon also made its first appearance in these Games, with American Joan Benoit winning gold.[41] These were also the first Games where women competed only against other women in shooting.[42]

There were no new events at the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary. At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, table tennis appeared for the first time for both men and women.[43] They competed in the singles and doubles disciplines. Also, a female specific sailing event debuted at these Games, the women's 470 discipline.[44] For the first time women competed in a track cycling event, the sprint.[45]

In 1991, the IOC made it mandatory for all new sports applying for Olympic recognition to have female competitors.[46] However, this rule only applied to new sports applying for Olympic recognition. This meant that any sports that were included in the Olympic programme prior to 1991 could continue to exclude female participants at the discretion of the sport's federation.[47] At the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, women competed in biathlon for the first time.[48] The athletes competed in the individual, sprint and relay disciplines. Freestyle skiing also debuted at the 1992 Games, where women competed in the moguls discipline.[49] Short track speed skating first appeared at these Games.[50] Women competed in the 500 metres and the 3000 metre relay. At the Summer Games of the same year in Barcelona, badminton appeared on the programme for the first time.[51] Women competed in the singles and doubles competition.[51] Women also competed in the sport of judo for the first time at these Games.[52] 35 nations still sent all-male delegations to these Games.[53]

1994–2002

Sweden playing the United States in ice hockey at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, the aerials discipline of freestyle skiing officially debuted.[54] Lina Cheryazova of Uzbekistan won the gold medal, which is to date her nation's sole medal at an Olympic Winter Games.[55] Women's soccer and softball made their first appearances at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where the hosts won gold in both.[56][57] At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, ice hockey and curling debuted for women.[58][59] Numerous new events made their premieres at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Weightlifting, modern pentathlon, taekwondo, triathlon and trampoline all debuted in Australia.[60] At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, women's bobsleigh made its first appearance.[61] Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers of the USA won the two-woman competition, the sole bobsleigh event for women at the 2002 Games.[62]

2004–2012

Nicola Adams of Great Britain fighting Cancan Ren of China in boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, women appeared in wrestling for the first time competing in the freestyle weight classes of 48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg and 72 kg.[63][64] Women also competed in the sabre discipline of fencing for the first time,[65] with Mariel Zagunis of the USA winning gold.[66] In 2004, women from Afghanistan competed at the Olympics for the first time in their history after the nation was banned from Sydney 2000 by the IOC due to the Taliban government's opposition to women in sports.[67] At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, the programme remained unchanged. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, a few new events were added. BMX cycling was held for the first time in 2008, debuting with the men's event.[68] Women also competed in the 3000 m steeplechase and the 10 kilometre marathon swim for the first time.[42][69] Baseball and boxing remained the only sports not open to women at these Games.

At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, ski cross debuted for both women and men.[70] Ashleigh McIvor of Canada won the inaugural gold for women in the sport.[71] Controversy was created when women's ski jumping was excluded from the programme by the IOC due to the low number of athletes and participating nations in the sport.[72] A group of fifteen competitive female ski jumpers later filed a suit against the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games on the grounds that it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since men were competing in the same event.[73] The suit failed, with the judge ruling that the situation was not governed by the Charter.[74] The 2012 Summer Olympics saw women's boxing make its debut.[75] This, combined with the decision by the IOC to drop baseball from the programme for 2012 meant that women competed in all sports at the summer Games for the first time.[76] London 2012 also marked the first time that all national Olympic committees sent a female athlete to the Games.[77] Brunei, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all had female athletes as a part of their delegations for the first time.[78]

2014–2018

Athletes competing in the triathlon event during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, women's ski jumping made its first appearance.[79] Carina Vogt of Germany won the first gold medal for women in the sport.[80] The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the first rugby sevens competition.[81] The tournament was won by the Australian team.[82] Golf was also re-added to the programme for the first time for women since 1900.[83] Inbee Park of South Korea won the tournament.[84] The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang saw the addition of big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass start speed skating, and mixed team alpine skiing.[85][86]

Future

Women will compete in softball, karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.[87] The International Ski Federation has stated that they are aiming to include women's Nordic combined in the Olympic programme for the first time at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.[88]

Sports

Briton Queenie Newall competing in archery at the 1908 Games in London.
The Zimbabwean women's field hockey team celebrating a 4–0 win over Poland at the 1980 Games.
Canadian bobsledders Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse competing at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games.
Canada versus Japan in Rugby sevens at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Women have competed in the following sports at the Olympic Games.[89]

Sport Year added to the programme
Tennis 1900
Golf 1900
Archery 1904
Figure skating 1908
Diving 1912
Swimming 1912
Fencing 1924
Athletics 1928
Alpine skiing 1936
Cross-country skiing 1936
Canoeing 1948
Equestrian 1952
Speed skating 1960
Volleyball 1964
Luge 1964
Shooting 1968
Basketball 1976
Handball 1976
Rowing 1976
Field hockey 1980
Cycling 1984
Table tennis 1988
Sailing 1988
Badminton 1992
Biathlon 1992
Judo 1992
Short track speed skating 1992
Football 1996
Softball 1996
Curling 1998
Ice hockey 1998
Modern pentathlon 2000
Taekwondo 2000
Triathlon 2000
Water polo 2000
Weightlifting 2000
Bobsleigh 2002
Skeleton 2002
Wrestling 2004
Boxing 2012
Ski jumping 2014
Rugby 2016

Gender differences

Athletics

In combined events at the Olympics, women compete in the seven-event heptathlon but men compete in three more events in the decathlon.[90] A women's pentathlon was held from 1964 to 1980, before being expanded to the heptathlon.

In sprint hurdles at the Olympics, men compete in the 110 metres hurdles, while women cover 100 metres.[90] Women ran 80 metres up to the 1968 Olympics; this was extended to 100 metres in 1961, albeit on a trial basis, the new distance of 100 metres became official in 1969. No date has been given for the addition of the 10 metres.[90] Both men and women clear a total of ten hurdles during the races and both genders take three steps between the hurdles at elite level.[91] Any amendment to the women's distance to match the men's would impact either the athlete technique or number of hurdles in the event, or result in the exclusion of women with shorter strides.

Historically, women competed over 3000 metres until this was matched to the men's 5000 metres event in 1996. Similarly, women competed in a 10 kilometres race walk in 1992 and 1996 before this was changed to the standard men's distance of 20 km. The expansion of the women's athletics programme to match the men's was a slow one. Triple jump was finally added in 1996, hammer throw and pole vault in 2000, and steeplechase in 2008. The sole difference remaining is the men-only 50 kilometres race walk event.[92] While the inclusion of a women's 50 km event has been advocated, proposals have also been mooted to remove the men's event entirely from the Olympics.[93][94]

Boxing

At the summer Olympics, men's boxing competitions take place over three three-minute rounds and women's over four rounds of two minutes each.[95] Women also compete in three weight categories against 10 for men.[90]

Canoeing

Canoeing excludes women at the Olympics for both the sprint and slalom disciplines.[96] These events will be contested at the next Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.[97]

Shooting

Women are excluded from the 25 metres rapid fire pistol, the 50 metres pistol and the 50 metres rifle prone events.[98] Men are excluded from the 25 metres pistol event.[98] From 1996 to 2004, women were allowed to participate the double trap competition. The women's event was taken off the Olympic program after the 2004 Summer Olympics.[99] Final shooting for women was discontinued in international competition as a result.

Road cycling

Since 1984 the women's road race has been 140 kilometres to the men's 250 kilometres. The time trials are 29 kilometres and 44 kilometres respectively. Each country is limited to sending five men but only four women to the summer Games.[90]

Tennis

In common with the Grand Slams women compete in three set matches at the Olympics as opposed to five sets for men.[90]

Soccer

In Olympic soccer, there is no age restriction for women, whereas the men's teams field under 23 teams with a maximum of three over aged players.[100]

Gender equality

Historically, female athletes have been treated, portrayed and looked upon differently than their male counterparts. In the early days of the Olympic Games, many NOCs limited the amount of female competitors they would send because they would incur the cost of paying for a chaperone, which was not necessary for the male athletes.[101]While inequality in participation has declined throughout history, women are still treated differently at the Games themselves.[102] For example, in 2012, the Japan women's national soccer team travelled to the Games in economy class, while the men's team travelled in business class.[103] Despite the fact that women compete in all sports at the summer Olympics, there are still 39 events that are not open to women.[104]

Media

Historically, coverage and inclusion of women's team sports in the Olympics has been limited. A 1991 study of coverage of women's sports in major American newspapers conducted by the LA84 Foundation found that 3.5% of stories in the sports sections were devoted to women's sports.[105] The same study concluded that 7.1% of all photographs in the sports section of major American newspapers were of female athletes and events.[105] However, coverage of female Olympians on television is more balanced with the coverage of males, yet still not equal. At the 2002 Games, men were covered twice as much as women during worldwide primetime slots.[106] This was a decrease in coverage of women's events as 47% of coverage of the 1996 Games was of women's events.[106] Also, it has been shown that commentators are more likely to refer to female athletes using "non-sporting terminology" than they are for men.[107] A 2016 study published by Cambridge University Press found that women were more likely to be described using physical features, age, marital status and aesthetics than men were, as opposed to sport related adjectives and descriptions.[108] The same study found that women were also more likely to be referred to as "girls" than men were to be called "boys" in commentary.[109] This disparity in the quality of coverage for women's Olympic sports has been attributed to the fact that 90% of sports journalists are male.[110]

Role of the International Olympic Committee

International Olympic Committee logo

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was created by Pierre, Baron de Coubertin, in 1894 and is now considered "the supreme authority of the Olympic movement".[111] Its headquarters are located in Lausanne, Switzerland. The title of supreme authority of the Olympic movement consists of many different duties, which include promoting Olympic values, maintaining the regular celebration of the Olympic Games, and supporting any organization that is connected with the Olympic movement.[111]

Some of the Olympic values that the IOC promotes are practicing sport ethically, eliminating discrimination from sports, encouraging women's involvement in sport, fighting the use of drugs in sport, and blending sport, culture, and education.[111] The IOC supports these values by creating different commissions that focus on a particular area. These commissions hold conferences throughout the year where different people around the world discuss ideas and ways to implement the Olympic values into the lives of people internationally.[111] The commissions also have the responsibility of reporting their findings to the President of the IOC and its executive board.[111] The President has the authority to assign members to different commissions based on the person's interests and specialties.

The first two female IOC members were the Venezuelan Flor Isava-Fonseca and the Norwegian Pirjo Häggman and were co-opted as IOC members in 1981.[112]

The IOC can contain up to 115 members, and currently, the members of the IOC come from 79 different countries.[111] The IOC is considered a powerful authority throughout the world as it creates policies that become standards for other countries to follow in the sporting arena.[113]

Only 20 of the current 106 members of the IOC are women.[114]

Women in Sport Commission

Women participants at each Summer Olympic Games as a percentage of all participants

A goal of the IOC is to encourage these traditional countries to support women's participation in sport because two of the IOC's Olympic values that it must uphold are ensuring the lack of discrimination in sports and promoting women's involvement in sport. The commission that was created to promote the combination of these values was the Women in Sport Commission.[115] This commission declares its role as "advis[ing] the IOC Executive Board on the policy to deploy in the area of promoting women in sport".[115] This commission did not become fully promoted to its status until 2004, and it meets once a year to discuss its goals and implementations.[115] This commission also presents a Women and Sport Trophy annually which recognizes a woman internationally who has embodied the values of the IOC and who has supported efforts to increase women's participation in sport at all levels.[113] This trophy is supposed to symbolize the IOC's commitment to honoring those who are beneficial to gender equality in sports.[116]

Another way that the IOC tried to support women's participation in sport was allowing women to become members. In 1990 Flor Isava Fonseca became the first woman elected to the executive board of the IOC. The first American woman member of the IOC was Anita DeFrantz, who became a member in 1986.[117] DeFrantz not only worked towards promoting gender equality in sports, but she also wanted to move toward gender equality in the IOC so women could be equally represented. She believed that without equal representation in the IOC that women's voices would not get an equal chance to be heard. She was instrumental in creating a new IOC policy that required the IOC membership to be composed of at least 20 percent women by 2005.[117] She also commissioned a study conducted in 1989 and again in 1994 that focused on the difference between televised coverage of men's and women's sports.[117] Inequality still exists in this area, but her study was deemed to be eye opening to how substantial the problem was and suggested ways to increase reporting on women's sporting events. DeFrantz is now head of the Women in Sport Commission.

The IOC failed in its policy requiring 20 percent of IOC members to be women by 2005.[114] By June 2012 the policy had still not been achieved, with only 20 out of 106 IOC members women, an 18.8 percent ratio. Only 4 percent of National Olympic Committees have female presidents.[114]

Impact of the Women's World Games

Background

Alice Milliat, the founder of the IWSF and Women's World Games.

In 1919, French feminist, translator and amateur rower, Alice Milliat initiated talks with the IOC and International Association of Athletics Federations with the goal of having women's athletics included at the 1924 Summer Games.[118] After her request was refused, she organized the first "Women's Olympiad", hosted in Monte Carlo.[119] This would become the precursor to the first Women's World Games. The event was seen as a protest against the IOC's refusal to include females in athletics and a message to their President Pierre de Coubertin who was opposed to women at the Olympics.[120] Milliat went on to found the International Women's Sports Federation who organized the first Women's World Games.

I do not approve of the participation of women in public competitions. In the Olympic Games, their primary role should be to crown the victors.

Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee

The Games

The first ever "Women's Olympic Games" were held in Paris in 1922. The athletes competed in eleven events:[121] 60 metres, 100 yards, 300 metres, 1000 metres, 4 x 110 yards relay, Hurdling 100 yards, high jump, long jump, standing long jump, javelin and shot put. 20,000 people attended the Games and 18 world records were set.[122] Despite the successful outcome of the event, the IOC still refused to include women's athletics at the 1924 Summer Olympics. On top of this, the IOC and IAAF objected to the use of the term "Olympic" in the event, so the IWSF changed the name of the event to the Women's World Games for the 1926 version.[123] The 1926 Women's World Games would be held in Gothenburg, Sweden. The discus throw was added to the programme. These Games were also attended by 20,000 spectators and finally convinced the IOC to allow women to compete in the Olympics in some athletics events.[124] The IOC let women compete in 100 metres, 800 metres, 4 × 100 metres relay, high jump and discus throw in 1928.[125] There would be two more editions of the Women's World Games, 1930 in Prague and 1934 in London.[126] The IWSF was forced to fold after the Government of France pulled funding in 1936.[127]

Notes

  1. ^ The equestrian events for these Games were held in Stockholm due to Australia's strict equine quarantine laws.
  2. ^ Ice dancing is a pairs event with one male and one female.

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