Women at the Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) promotes women in sports in an effort to increase participation in the games as well recognition of the well being of women and girls in sports at all levels of sports and different structures within sports. This is consistent with the Olympic charter which promotes equality within sports of men and women by including both genders in these competitions. The IOC as well as the International Federations (IFS) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have been committed to the mandates of this Olympic charter. Multiple measures have been taken toward increasing the participation of women at governing and administrative levels as well as training and education toward women in sport and the supporting administrative structures. Since 1991, all new sports asking to be included in the Olympic program must feature women’s events.[1] The 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics in which women competed in all sports in the program.[2] The 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics where every participating country included female athletes.[3][4] They were also the first Olympics in which women competed in all sports in the program.[2]

Leadership within the IOC

The IOC is committed to promoting women's participation in sports as part of their sports administration. An attempt was made to have women occupy at least 20% of the decision making positions of the legislative bodies by the end of 2005, but the attempt failed.[1] The objective of at least 10% by the end of 2000 however, was achieved. As of May 2014, 24 women are active IOC members, which is 22.6%.[1] In 1990 the first woman, Flor Isava Fonseca, was elected to the Executive Board. The Vice President of the IOC from 1997-2001 was a woman, Anita DeFrantz.[1] An increasing number of women are serving as chairpersons on IOC commissions.[1] The NOCs are also making progress toward the objective with 11 NOCS headed by female presidents. IOC-Recognized Federations' executive boards are 26% women. Winter and Summer IFs boards are only 17% women.[1]

IOC Women and Sport Commission

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

There has been additional work from the IOC Women and Sport Commission, commissioned in 2004, after starting as a working group in 1995. Women in Sport Commission advises the IOC President and Executive Board to ensure equality with consideration of women in sport in policy making. The IOC has also done much work through programs developed to educate women in leadership roles toward success in administrative positions in NOCs and National Sports Federations. Furthermore, Olympic Solidarity programs assist NOCs participation in various ways, including a special Women and Sport assistance program. Every year the IOC awards the "Women and Sport " trophy to persons or organizations making a considerable contribution to women's sports.[5]

Every four years the IOC conducts a world conference to review and plan actions to improve women's sports participation and promote gender equality in sport. A specific declaration was made at the 2012 conference in Los Angeles to collaborate and promote equality and use sport as a tool to improving women's lives (Olympic.org)

The representation of women in the Olympics has always been below 50%. It has risen from about 10% until World War II to 45% in 2012. One cause of this is that some sports that have been historically popular with women are not included in the Olympics or have been included only recently.

Attending the games

In some countries like Australia, getting funding for women to participate in the Olympics during the early years of the Games was difficult. Twenty years ago, the Australian swimming federation did not want to spend money to send female athletes to compete in the games; rather, they wanted to spend money to fund more participation of male swimmers.[5][when?] Sending a woman athlete (like Thelma Kench from New Zealand in 1932) also required the extra cost of a chaperone with the team.

Media coverage

Historically, coverage and inclusion of women's team sports in the Olympics has been limited.[6] Instead, the media focuses on female athletes in non-team competitions and on team sports played equally by both genders.[6]

NBC spends a smaller portion of coverage time on women than men in the Winter Olympics, but during the summer Olympics women seem to get a more equal share of attention. In the 2012 summer Games, NBC actually spent more time on women than men, and women received 55% of clock time within NBC’s telecast at the London games.[2] “If your primary concern is to see the US win medals, the last couple of Olympics, the women are winning the majority of the medals, [so] you’re going to be showing more women’s sport,” says Billings.[2] When women’s sports are covered in the media, that doesn’t mean they are represented well by the commentators. There will generally be comments about how women’s sports are years behind men’s sports in what the athletes are able to accomplish. You also hear a lot about how a women was lucky if she succeeded in a sport, rather than about her ability and commitment. The women in non-contact or graceful, less aggressive sports, have been getting much more TV time. If you’re a gymnast, diver, runner, swimmer, or volleyball player, you’re more likely to be covered. If you compete in judo or shotput, you’re out of luck. Women’s beach volleyball tends to get a lot of coverage, but there are arguments over why this is so. Although it is an awesome sport and America happens to have some of the best sand volleyball players there are, it is questionable if they receive more coverage because of their talent, or because of their outfits. In 2008, when all four American Olympic volleyball teams (beach and indoor, men’s and women’s) medaled, the women’s beach volleyball team received more coverage than either men’s team; the women’s indoor team wasn’t covered at all.[2]

The Games: Sports

Since 1991, all new sports asking to be included in the Olympic program must feature women’s events.[1] The 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics in which women competed in all sports in the program.[2]

According to The International Olympic Committee’s list of women’s sports (updated in May 2014) these were the following years every new woman’s sport was introduced. The first women’s sports were in 1900, which were tennis and golf. The next 3 Olympics added archery (1904), tennis and figure skating (1908), and swimming (1912). The next sports were not added until twelve-sixteen years later, fencing (1924) and gymnastics (1928). The second winter sport added to women’s sport was alpine skiing in 1936. Another long twelve to sixteen years later, canoeing was added in 1948 and equestrian sports in 1952. Two Olympics following, speed skating was added to the games in 1960. The following Olympics volleyball and luge were added in 1964; rowing, basketball, and handball were added in 1976; field hockey was added in 1980; shooting and cycling were introduced in 1984. The next two Olympic terms included 6 more women’s sports, tennis, table tennis, sailing in 1988 and badminton, judo, biathlon in 1992. In 1996, football and softball; in 1998, curling and ice hockey; in 2000, weightlifting, penthalon, taekwondo, and triathlon, in 2002, bobsleighing was added; in 2004, wrestling; in 2008, BMX. The last updated women’s sports included in the Olympic games according to the IOC are boxing (2012) and ski jumping (2014).[1]


Women's basketball has been contested in the Summer Olympics since 1976.[7]


It took over 100 years from when men's boxing was announced for women's boxing to be announced.[3] Women's boxing was first introduced at the 2012 Summer Olympics with Nicola Adams winning the first boxing gold medal in the flyweight division.


While men's road and track cycling have been Olympic disciplines since the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, there were no women's cycling events in the Olympic programme until the 1984 Games in Los Angeles when the first women's road race was held. The first track cycling event for women followed in 1988, but the 2012 London Games were the first with equal numbers of events for men and women, which entailed a reduction in the number of men's events as well as an increase in the number of women's events. The disciplines of mountain biking and BMX were introduced in 1996 and 2008 respectively, with separate men's and women's events from the outset.[8]

Ice hockey

Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser is the all-time leading scorer in the women's tournament[9] and was named tournament MVP twice.[10]

Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser is the all-time leading scorer in the women's tournament[7] and was named tournament MVP twice.[8] At the 99th IOC Session in July 1992, the IOC voted to approve women's hockey as an Olympic event beginning with the 1998 Winter Olympics as part of their effort to increase the number of female athletes at the Olympics.[11] Women's hockey had not been in the programme when Nagano, Japan had won the right to host the Olympics, and the decision required approval by the Nagano Winter Olympic Organizing Committee (NWOOC). The NWOOC was initially hesitant to include the event because of the additional costs of staging the tournament and because they felt their team, which had failed to qualify for that year's World Championships, could not be competitive.[12] According to Glynis Peters, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association's (CAHA) head of female hockey, "the Japanese would have to finance an entirely new sports operation to bring their team up to Olympic standards in six years, which they were also really reluctant to do."[13] In November 1992, the NWOOC and IOC Coordination Committee reached an agreement to include a women's ice hockey tournament in the programme.[12] Part of the agreement was that the tournament would be limited to six teams, and no additional facilities would be built. The CAHA also agreed to help build and train the Japanese team so that it could be more competitive.[13] The IOC had agreed that if the NWOOC had not approved the event, it would be held at the 2002 Winter Olympics.[12] The format of the first tournament was similar to the men's: preliminary round-robin games followed by a medal round playoff.[14]


In 1991, fast-pitch softball was selected to debut as a medal event for women-only at the 1996 Summer Olympics[15] The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball; the IOC funded a landmark biomechanical study on pitching during the games.[citation needed] The 117th meeting of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted to drop softball and baseball for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.[16][17] Attempts to get softball readded to the Olympic program for the 2016 games failed when the International Olympic Committee executive board instead selected golf and rugby sevens.[18] The United States have won three of the four Olympic tournaments.[19][20]


Women's weightlifting made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Games in Sydney, with the following weight classes:

  • 48 kg
  • 53 kg
  • 58 kg
  • 63 kg
  • 69 kg
  • 75 kg
  • +75 kg

Around the world

Rome 1960

The role American women at the Olympics gained in importance and visibility compared to their male American peers.[21]



Two female swimmers stand on a wooden pool deck wearing bathing suits that have short sleeves and while full bodied, look like shorts go down to just above the knee
Fanny Durrack (left) and Mina Wylie, Australian swimmers, in 1912

Fanny Durack was Australia's first female gold medalist.[22] She earned this medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics,[23] where she represented a combined team of Australia and New Zealand, known as the Australasian team.[5]

Participation costs for Australian athletes, costs like travel to and lodging at, early Olympic games were expected to be paid by the local sport federation sponsoring the athlete.[5]

In early Australian swimming history as it pertains to the Olympics, there was an attempt to prevent women from participating by male Australian swimming administrators.[23]

Women's sports

Olympic recognition

Netball is an amazing sport and it was very sad for us for it not to be in the Olympic Games so it would be amazing if we could get it in next time round. It would be brilliant for the girls coming through to get that opportunity to play at the Olympics because it is the sporting pinnacle if you can achieve that goal.

Tamsin Greenway, England wing attack[24]

Throughout the history of the Olympics, sports popular exclusively with women or that have been very popular with women have been excluded.[25] The situation extends beyond the popular women's sport of netball to women's cycling, which was excluded for many years despite having world championships for women being organised by 1958.[25] It extends to field hockey, a sport included for men as early as 1908 but not competed by women until 1980.[25] Lawn bowls is a popular women's sport that has been included in the Commonwealth Games for many years but has not made the Olympic program.[25] While primarily a sport for women, netball allows for mixed-gendered teams,[26][27] but the Olympics do not allow mixed-gendered team sports.[25][note 1]

The issues facing netball are part of a larger issue involving female participation in the Olympics.[25] At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, there were 159 sports for men to compete in, 86 sports for women, and 12 sports for both men and women.[29] At the 2000 Summer Olympics, there were still sports that women were excluded from participating in, such as boxing, wrestling and baseball; softball was included as a women-only event. The issue of male over-representation in terms of total number of sports and athletes is structural. In the United Kingdom, for example, more male athletes than female athletes received financial support. Sports officials rationalised this uneven distribution of funding by claiming that there are more opportunities for men to win on the highest level than there are comparable opportunities for women.[29] The importance of netball being included as a competition sport in the Summer Olympics has been compared to softball, and the benefits that the sport derived from Olympic inclusion.[30] This included additional media attention and television coverage, especially during Olympic years.[30] Olympic recognition plays an important part in getting sponsorship for local competitions around the world.[31] It also plays an important role in providing recognition to and opportunities for females that may not be available otherwise.[31]

The selection of women's teams sport in the Olympics may not match with interest levels in a country.[6] In Australia for example, 245,300 total women and girls play basketball, hockey, soccer, softball and volleyball.[6] This compares to 319,500 women and girls who play netball.[6]

Since 1991, all new sports asking to be included in the Olympic program must feature women’s events.[1] The 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics in which women competed in all sports in the program.[2]


The lack of Olympic recognition hampered the globalisation of the game in developing countries,[32] because the Olympic Solidarity Movement provides access to funding for these nations through the International Olympic Committee.[32] In some countries such as Tanzania, the lack of access to Olympic funding cut off other funding options such funding by British Council.[33] With official recognition, funding from the IOC, the Olympic Solidarity Movement and the British Council became available to cover costs for travel to international competitions.[32] For some nations, without that assistance, trying to maintain international calibre teams was difficult.[32] Olympic recognition brought money for development into the sport.[7] In 2004, IFNA received a grant of US$10,000 from the IOC for development.[7] IFNA was given an additional US$3,300 a year until 2007 by the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports (ARISF).[7]

Beyond access to funds from the International Olympic Committee, Olympic recognition is often a requirement for getting funding from state and national sporting bodies, and state and federal governments. This has been the case in Australia,[34] and British Columbia, Canada.[35] In 1985, the Australian Sports Commission and the Office of the Status of Women identified five criteria for obtaining federal funding.[34] One of these was: "status as an Olympic sport and its size by registrations."[34][note 2] In British Columbia, one of the guidelines says that in order to receive funding, "The sport must be on the program for either the 2011 or 2013 Canada Games and/or the next scheduled recognized International Multi-Sport Games (Olympics/Paralympics, Pan American or Commonwealth Games, Special Olympic World Games)."[35]

At the 2012 Summer Olympics, the American team, for the first time, had more female athletes, 269, than male, 261.[36]

See also


  1. While team mixed gendered sports are not competed at the Olympics, some mixed gendered events are included. They include equestrian sports, shooting and sailing where men and women compete against each other. In shooting and sailing, women were originally only allowed to compete in mixed-gendered events. Single-gender events for these sports were not added until a later date.[28]
  2. Netball qualified for funding because it met the other criteria. From 1980 to 1984, the sport received A$497,000 in funding.[34]


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  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Jones 2004, p. 143
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Shooting for Success 2004, p. 1
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  9. The Canadian Press 2008
  10. Yen 2008
  11. The Canadian Press 1992
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 The New York Times 1992
  13. 13.0 13.1 Ormsby 1992
  14. sports-reference.com 2006
  15. International Softball Federation
  16. Singapore National Olympic Council
  17. de Vries, Lloyd (8 May 2011). "Strike 3 for Olympic Baseball". CBS News. Retrieved 15 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Wilson, Stephen (23 August 2009). "Golf, rugby backed by IOC board for 2016 Games". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 8 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. International Softball Federation 2006
  20. International Softball Federation 2002
  21. Maraniss 2008, p. xiii
  22. Howell & Howell 1988, p. 24
  23. 23.0 23.1 Howell & Howell 1988, p. 25
  24. Jordan 2011
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 25.5 Dyer 1982, p. 205
  26. Symons & Hemphill 2006, p. 122
  27. Samoa Observer 2011
  28. International Olympic Committee 2008, p. 5
  29. 29.0 29.1 Pfister & Hartmann-Tews 2002, p. 274
  30. 30.0 30.1 Taylor 2001a, p. 15
  31. 31.0 31.1 First National Bank 2010
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Crocombe 1992, p. 156
  33. Massoa & Fasting 2002, p. 120
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 Australian Sport Commission & Office of the Status of Women 1985, p. 92
  35. 35.0 35.1 Community, Sport and Cultural Development - Province of British Columbia 2010, p. 5
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