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The right to fight

5 décembre 2012

The London 2012 Games paved the way in terms of female participation with more women competing in the Olympics than ever before (23% at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, a figure that jumped to 42% for Beijing 2008 and 45% for London 2012). The addition of women’s boxing made the London Games the first to feature both sexes competing in every sport in the Olympic program. However, beyond the Olympics, there are many steps remaining before true gender equality can be reached in the sporting landscape.

An increasing number of women want to compete alongside men in certain sports or at least get an opportunity to do so. However there has been debate about this and governing institutions have often been reluctant to approve these requests. Recently, Lindsey Vonn (@lindseyvonn) who proved again she’s the world’s fastest female skier at the Lake Louise Winterstart alpine skiing World Cup event, asked the FIS (International Ski Federation) to race in the men’s competitions. Her request was finally turned down as “one gender is not entitled to participate in races of the other and exceptions will not be made to the FIS rules”. However Lindsey Vones, as four-time World Cup champion, hopes that her dominance of the women’s competitions may prompt an about turn in the decision of skiing’s world governing body.

Moreover, London 2012 canoe slalom silver medalist Jessica Fox (@JessFoxxx) is determined to push the case for gender equality in her sport at the next Olympic Games in Rio 2016. She recently stated that “in slalom canoeing there were four men for every woman competing at the London Olympics. There are three events for men (K1, C1 and C2) and one event for women (K1).” However, for an extra women’s event to enter the program, a men’s event must be dropped. This could be the sticking point for the International Olympic Committee.

If we look at other sports, golf has already experienced some change by allowing women, such as young superstar golfer Michelle Wie who has joined the men on the PGA tour in a few events. Danica Patrick continues to challenge men on the racetracks of NASCAR after a successful Indy Car career. Twenty years ago, Manon Rheaume, Canadian ice hockey goaltender, even broke the gender barrier in the NHL, as the first woman in the history of the game to play an NHL game – and to this day, she still stands alone:
In Formula One, only five women racing drivers have entered at least one Grand Prix, although only two of them ever qualified and started a race. In March 2012, Maria de Villota (@mariavillota) has become the first female to be involved in Formula One for 20 years after joining Russian team Marussia as a test driver.

So what does gender equality mean? Will it be achievable in the years to come? In an article from the NY Times (, Ellen MacArthur (@ellenmacarthur), yachtswoman and charity founder, gave her point of view: “Focus, hard work and belief in one’s potential do not have a gender. Offshore sailing is one of the rare sports that offers the opportunity for men and women to compete on equal terms, so was my gender relevant? I never thought so”.

On one side, athletes are pushing to make things progress, but institutions, be they political or sporting, also have a key role to play. London 2012 brought about new interest in the broader impact of Title IX and how the increase in sports participation by women worldwide may be attributed to the 1972 American legislation. Moreover, the City of Vancouver has passed a resolution to improve leadership and participation opportunities in sport for women in time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015. In the UK, major sports governing bodies will face funding cuts if they fail to meet UK Sport and Sport England’s targets of one in four female board members by 2017. According to Sue Tibballs (@Sue_Tibballs), chief executive of the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation (@wsff_uk), such regulations are « absolutely essential » to move forward. Football has long been considered as a problem child as it took 150 years to appoint the first woman (Heather Rabbatts) on the FA board. The FA has demonstrated a strong commitment to pursue these efforts, by nominating more women in executive positions as they did with Julie Harrington, managing director of St George’s Park.

As we can see, women are pushing the boundaries and getting inclusion as well as recognition. One interesting event celebrating women’s achievements is the Femmes en Or’ ceremony (‘Golden Women’ @FemmesenOr) to be hosted in Courchevel, France on December 15. Now in its 20th year, this initiative rewards and showcases successful and promising French women, in various fields but also in the world of sport. In the latter category, Julie Bresset (mountain bike cyclist and Olympic champion @juliebresset1), Charlotte Consorti (professional kiteboarder @ChaConsorti), Lucie Décosse (Olympic champion in judo), Marie-Amélie Le Fur (Paralympic champion in T44 100m sprint) and Laure Manaudou (Olympic champion in swimming @Manaudou) are part of the 2012 nominees. Camille Muffat (2011), Ellen Mac Arthur (2002), Laura Flessel (2000) and Marie-Jo Perrec (1993) were awarded in previous editions. In a similar aim to promote female achievements, the Women and Sport Commission, chaired by Anita L. DeFrantz, yearly rewards initiatives that promote women in sport through the IOC Women and Sport Trophy ceremony.

To help raise the visibility of female athletes and the importance of having more women in the world of sport, fans, sponsors and media platforms –think about espnW – can also get involved. This is the only way to break down barriers and ensure female athletes get the spotlight they deserve in the years to come.

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