THE PROMOTION OF WOMEN AND SPORTS
As a leader of the Olympic Movement whose first objective is to promote Olympism and develop sport worldwide, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has played an important role in establishing a positive trend to enhance women's participation in sport, especially in the last 20 years. The IOC has also undertaken more general action in the field of advocacy, especially among National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and International Sports Federations (IFs), with the aim of raising awareness of the need to ensure strict equality between men and women, to provide women with wider access to sports activities, as well as encouraging them to take leadership positions in sports administration.
The women and sport Olympic movement is fairly "young". Strategies and coordinated actions led by the IOC started to emerge in the late 1980s. Although its expansion is encouraging and much progress has been seen in the field of play, much remains to be done at the leadership level. Of all the sectors of activity, the management and administration of sports organisations is certainly the one in which greater efforts must be made to address the inequalities which still exist. The IOC recognised the need to keep the pressure on and to have a multi-sector approach dealing with women and sport issues.
History shows that women's participation in the Olympic Movement has been increasing over the years, since their first participation in the 1900 Olympic Games and especially in the last 30 years. This evolution has taken place within a favorable social, political and cultural framework in which women's issues started to be addressed and led to major action and regulations that recognised and defended women's rights at all levels of society.
The work of women's rights groups has been particularly relevant to the advancement of women in sport. Access to sport was included in international instruments and documents that the United Nations and other institutions approved and promoted in the 1970s and 1980s. Sports and physical activities have been recognized as having a positive impact on health and as being a tool to eliminate socially constructed gender stereotypes. This progress has been made thanks also to the strong determination of women from various countries who have persistently worked to play a full role in the sports movement and its development.
Over the decades, scientific research and knowledge have managed to dispel many myths based on female morphology and many preconceptions arguing that sport was harmful to women's health and reproductive health in particular. Health studies provided positive feedback on the benefit of physical activity and sport for young girls and women to fight non-communicable diseases and to ensure that they age better. Furthermore, the benefits of physical activity and sport have been positively measured in terms of psycho-pedagogical effects: from socialisation to building self-esteem, girls and women engaged in sport have been made stronger and have managed to step out of their traditional role in society. Learning to win, to have fun and achieve success through sport are among the best schools of life. Mentalities have become more receptive to this truth, and physical education and sport more accessible to young girls at schools.
The Olympic Movement and the sports community at large have followed this movement and progressively undertaken initiatives to allow broader participation by women in sport in general. More sports and disciplines have been opened up to women at all levels and in most countries of the world. What were previously considered as “endurance” sports or disciplines, and thus impossible for women, such as the 800 meters, marathon, weightlifting, cycling and martial arts, are now performed by both women and men. We have seen a transformation of the so-called “tomboys” into sportswomen with talent, first-class performances and skill. In the last 20 years especially, the IOC has pressed to ensure that the women's programme at the Olympic Games has enlarged, in cooperation with the respective International Sports Federations (IFs) and the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs). This development has been further reinforced by the IOC's decision that all sports seeking inclusion in the programme must include women's events. The IOC also started to work on women's involvement at leadership level in sport in 1981, under the initiative of former President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who wanted to have women co-opted as IOC members. As a result, 16 members out of 107 are women.
Following the recommendations of the Study Commission of the IOC Centennial Olympic Congress in 1994, an IOC Women and Sport Working Group was created in 1995 to advise the IOC Executive Board on suitable policies to be implemented in this field. In 2004, the Working Group became the IOC Women and Sport Commission.
The Commission also recommended that the Olympic Charter be amended to include, for the first time in history, an explicit reference to the need for work in this area:
"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." Rule 2, paragraph 7, Olympic Charter in force as from 07.07.200
Courtesy of IOC web site http://www.olympic.org/uk/organisation/commissions/women/index_uk.asp
Since 1996, the IOC's advocacy action has been supported by the organisation of quadrennial World Conferences on Women and Sport. The purpose of these Conferences is to assess the progress made in this area within the Olympic Movement and to define future priority actions to improve and increase the involvement of women in this framework. The most recent conference was held at the Dead Sea, Jordan, in March 2008, and led to the adoption of an action plan that will serve as a basis for the new IOC policy on gender equality.