Wednesday, August 08, 2007

8-08-08: Olympic Equality

This time next year, the 2008 Olympics will start in Beijing, China. It was only about 100 years ago that women gained the right to participant in the Olympics. Even then, it was a confused effort and women could only compete in select "leisure" sports. Historically, women have never had as many events as men and they have always had less participants. Last time, in Athens, women made up 40.74% (4306 participants) while men were 59.26 (6262 participants). Those numbers are improving every year, though. (click here to see a chart)

Originally, doctors "argued that because of the amount of energy women expended on reproductive functions, minimal energy was left for physical, psychic or intellectual endeavors." (National Women's History Museum) But soon women were allowed to participate in sports like archery, skating and crochet. By the end of the 18th century, some middle and upper class women were playing sports like tennis and golf. Then in the 1900 games in Paris, women got to compete for the very first time. Because of all the confusion with the Paris World Fair happening at the same time, the first American woman to win an Olympic game (Margaret Abbot) didn't even know it. It was only recently discovered that the golf event was registered as an Olympic game.

Gradually, women were allowed to participant in more and more events like swimming, gymnastics, basketball and skating. At the last Olympics women competed in 26 of the 28 sports and 135 events (about 45% of events). That's a huge improvement from the days when women only had 6 sports and 25 events (1952 games).

Then in the 1980's and 90's women were finally allowed to hold positions on the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic charter. In 1991 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that if a new Olympic game was introduced there had to be men's and women's events. In 1994 the IOC had a rule that required them to promote women in sports of all levels and "act with a strict application of the principle of equality of men and women.” To help them achieve this standard they formed a "Women and Sport" group to advise their decisions.

For the first time, the Olympic games included wrestling as a women's event in Athens. Now "with the introduction of women’s wrestling, there will be few events at this Olympics in which women are not participating." (National Women's History Museum) It seems now that events and participants are becoming equal for women, the largest hurtle is the countries. In the last Olympics in 2004, 9 countries had absolutely no women athletes. (compared to the 2 countries who had no male athletes). A women's group from Europe called Atlanta Plus, says that gender discrimination is just like racial discrimination and that countries who ban women from the Olympics shouldn't be allowed to participant at all.

Women aren't equal in the Olympic yet, but at the rate we are traveling it won't be much longer. Now we can participant in 26 sports and 135 events, almost every country allows women to compete in the Olympics and gone are the days when doctors thought we had little energy for anything but babies. As the the 2008 Olympics draw near, every woman can look back and be proud at how far we have truly come.

Read about the whole journey and some amazing firsts for women athletes here.

The official website for the Olympics has some interesting facts about the involvement of women.

Statistics regarding gender from the 2004 Athens games.

Facts about women in the Olympics:

  • In the first Olympic Games in which women competed (Paris 1900) women represented 5 countries - USA, France, Great Britain, Switzerland and Bohemia.

  • The Games of the New Millennium, the XXVII Olympiad, took place in Sydney between 15th September and 1st October, 2000. There were 28 sports altogether and women took part in 25.

  • Between 1928 and 1956 the women’s 800 metres was only held once, it was declared unsafe for women and was banned until 1960.

  • The first woman to light the Olympic flame was Enriqeuta Basilio of Mexico in 1968. The first woman to take the Olympic Oath was Heidi Schuller in Munich, 1972.

  • British Equestrian, Lorna Johnson, became the oldest female Olympian in 1972 at 70 years.

  • The first married women competed in the Olympics of 1900.

  • A 17 year old Dutch swimmer, Wihemina ‘Rie’ Mastenbroek, was the first woman to win 4 Olympic medals. Rie won 3 golds and a silver in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Peace, friends.

1 comment:

Katie said...

What awesome role-models for young girls! I really appreciate that your blog is profiling women from all walks of life, it just goes to show that girls really can do anything! Speaking of great female role models, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy are being inducting into the Soccer Hall of Fame at the end of this month and they’re part of the first ever all-female player class! Pretty cool, huh? Girl Talk, the organization I work for, is sponsoring the event. We have a great website . You can also check us out on Myspace at and Facebook: Katie O’Connor. See you around!