International Olympics Committee Announces Near Gender Parity Throughout Its Administration


May 29, 2020


Image credit: IOC/Greg Martin

The Olympics are becoming more inclusive. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Thursday a new, more inclusive composition of its various commissions. Women now account for 47.7% of positions across IOC’s 30 commissions  — almost double from 2013 — and chair 11 out of 30 (36.7%) of them. 

The latest news, which includes the introduction of two new women chairs — Thailand’s Khunying Patama Leeswadtrakul and China’s Zhang Hong — is another step forward in achieving gender equality in sport, an agenda that was first formalized by the Olympics in 2013, and reinforced again in 2020. 

At this year’s Tokyo Olympics, currently postponed until November due to the coronavirus pandemic, an almost equal number of male and female athletes are slated to compete. IOC announced in March that a record-breaking 49% of athletes set to compete in the Olympic Games this year will be women, up from 34% in 1996. The 2020 reiteration of gender equality goals, however, doesn’t stop at gender parity among athletes. In 2018, IOC pledged to achieve gender parity in the fields of governance, human resources, funding and sport within the Olympics umbrella, a goal that has been partly realised with the introduction of the current commission. 

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The push was a result of IOC’s Gender Equality Review Project, which proposed a set of 25 recommendations to achieve the goal of gender equality in sport, all of which were greenlit by IOC’s Executive Board in 2018. These included requiring an equal number of male and female athletes for both individual and team events, with an eye to remove differences between men’s and women’s sports, in the form of quality of uniforms, equipment, healthcare and medical research designed to support athletes. IOC also committed to gender parity amongst technical officials and coaches, while promising to reduce harassment against female participants, tackle media bias in the portrayals of male and female athletes, ensure a smooth career transition for female athletes, and set aside funds specifically designed to further women and girls’ participation in sport, among others. The goal, according to IOC, is to achieve full gender parity by the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The latest announcement signals a welcome change in the mindset of international sporting institutions, which have traditionally been highly masculinized and male-dominated spaces. The Olympics, for example, has gone from having no women athletes in 1896 — because founder Pierre de Coubertin thought women were “not cut out to sustain certain shocks,” according to the BBC — to only accepting new sporting events if there are accompanied by women’s teams available to compete. The Olympics has shown a gradual, slow increase in women’s participation since its inception. In the past few years, however, the IOC has shown dedication toward fast-tracking this process. There’s still a great deal of work to do to spearhead gender equality at both micro and macro levels of international sports. The IOC has fulfilled initial expectations by setting well-rounded goals, and fulfilling a few of them. 

When it comes to transgender and intersex athletes for example, most international sporting institutions, including the IOC, have been severely criticized for upholding outdated policies that seek to limit the participation of non-cisgender athletes in women’s sports. The IOC, which considers testosterone levels a marker of who can compete in women’s events, is currently considering imposing stricter guidelines on trans athletes, inciting criticism from queer rights advocates.

As with anything in sport, a couple of wins don’t automatically spell permanent success. Achieving complete gender parity (of all women) in the next four years is a lofty goal — only time will tell if the IOC can step it up. 


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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