Gender equality and empowerment of women in sport

Joey van Kuilenburg, Founder @ Victoryz
December 3, 2017


We can all agree that today, gender equality still remains a challenge to overcome. This, despite the fact that soon we will cross into 2018 and that the previous centuries have offered us countless experiences to learn from.

Gender equality refers to different opportunities that men and women have in economic, social and cultural settings. When we talk about gender equality, we talk about rebalancing inequalities between men and women when it comes to access to education, access to information, equal pay, and in general terms over the independence of women and their empowerment to be in the same footing as men.

Why is it important?

We cannot live in a society and world where women are given less than men. Women should have equal chances as men to pursue their studies, careers, goals in life without impediments triggered by their gender. Empowering women will enable them to reach their full potential which will positively impact the world as a whole.

The world of sport has not been free of issues relating to the inequality between men and women. Traditionally, women were not even allowed to participate in the Olympic Games. This is why, at an international level, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has assumed the difficult role and subsequent responsibility to “encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels

This week’s blog offers you an overview of the evolution of women’s participation in the Olympic games as athletes and in leadership and management positions within the framework of the IOC.

The first women competed in the Olympic Games in 1900. 22 women (accounting for only 2.2 % of the total athletes) competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, equestrian, croquet and golf. Since then, women’s participation in the Olympic Games grew from edition to edition with women competing in more and more sports. In 1928, women’s participation was close to 10% with athletics and gymnastics being open to women’s participation for the first time. 32 years later, in 1960, 20% of the participants in the Winter Games were female.

However, the most significant increase of women’s participation happened in the last 20 years. It was in London 2012 when women competed in all the sports of the Olympic programme for the first time. The Rio Games set a new record with 45.2% of participants being women. This is a result of the fact that in 2004, the IOC Women and Sport Group became a fully fledged commission, in order to support women in their participation to the Games as athletes and in securing leadership and management positions within the IOC and within International sport Federations and so forth. More importantly, the commission also had and still has the role of raising awareness and spreading information about the empowerment of women in this context

Read here about key dates in the history of women in the olympic movement here:

Despite the fact that women’s participation in the Games has increased throughout time, there is still work to be done when it comes to increasing the number of women elected in leadership and management roles. It was highlighted during the 5th IOC World Conference on Women and Sport in 2012 that it is very important to bring more women into management and leadership positions.  

In 1990, 90 years after the first women participated in the Games, Ms. Flor Isava Fonseca, was the first woman to be elected on the Executive Board of the IOC. She was followed Anita DeFrantz in 1997 who became the first female IOC Vice-President and by many other women, who started to take management and leadership roles within the IOC. Read more about this here:

Currently, there are 4 women in the IOC Executive Board out of 15 Members. 7 out of 26 IOC commissions are chaired by women, amounting to 27%. In 2015, 11 NOCs (National Olympic Committees) had a woman president and 30 had a woman Secretary General. 27 NOCs out of the 135 that took part in the survey had 30% or more women in their Executive Boards and 62 NCOs had less than 20% women on their Executive Board, with 10% NCOs still without a woman on their Executive Board.

Looking at IFs (International Federations), 4 of the IFs (summer, winter and recognised IFs) had a female president. 23 of the IFs had more than 20% women on their Executive Board and 13 did not have any women in their Executive board at all.

All we have to conclude after reading these numbers is that the position of women has been definitely strengthened in the last couple of decades, with small but secure steps in the beginning.

Regarding women’s participation in the Games, there are good prospects that in the next edition of the Games, 50% of the participants will be women. There is still work to be done when it comes to bringing and supporting more women in leadership and management positions. The IOC Women and Sport Commission has assumed a very important role in this respect.

Moreover, there are a number of other initiatives that have been taken in this respect which we will discuss in next week’s blog. Don’t miss it!


At Victoryz we encourage all athletes whether men or women to reach their full potential. Read our blog and share it across your social networks to raise awareness!

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