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Celebrate the Wins When They Come

If one is a diehard fan of women’s sport, you are aware of the ‘big events’ that are carefully marked on the calendar each year – March Madness, US Open, Penn Relays, National Girls and Women in Sports Day. Then there are the quadrennial powerhouse events like FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games. If one is a committed advocate, however, you are even more aware that a behemoth such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and its stakeholders, affect and direct the course of events for women’s sport globally every day of every year. For this reason, international women’s sports advocacy organizations, joined by the Women’s Sports Foundation, have aimed a tremendous amount of effort focused on bringing true equality to the Olympic Movement. Progress has been slowly implemented yet evident.

Some decades ago, efforts for equality resulted in the IOC setting a 20 percent target for female leadership in the IOC and its constituent organizations. The IOC eventually managed the 20 percent level in membership. With the Olympic Agenda 2020 promoted by President Bach, the new quota level was raised to 30 percent; clearly not equality and only a few segments of the Olympic community met the goal. The most recent Olympic Games saw the percentages of female participants hover close to the 50 percent mark but leadership and funding lag far behind.

These observations were particularly problematic when reviewing the IOC Charter, affirming that “enjoyment of the rights and freedoms…shall be secured without discrimination of any kind including race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Additionally, two core principles of the mission statement include: (1) to encourage and support the promotion of women’s sport at all levels and in all structures and (2) to protect clean athletes and the integrity of sport by leading the fight against doping and by taking action against all forms of manipulation of competition and related corruption. Fighting doping, gambling and discrimination against women are all ostensibly presented as equal concerns of the Olympic Movement; however, it is plain to see the extensive organizational structures and funding devoted at country, regional and global levels on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and other such anti-doping steps.

Where ‘o where has a similar will been extended against gender discrimination and inequality? Until now! The unceasing women’s sport advocacy efforts, joined with the efforts on behalf of women’s equality coming from United Nations, UN Women and other fora associated with Sustainable Development Goals, have exerted pressure on an Olympic Movement striving to be seen as a contributor to peace and development. Such forces have brought a remarkable turn of events.

Gender Equality Review Project

There has existed for some time a backdrop of continual criticism of the Olympic Movement in its apparent satisfaction that having suggested corrective steps towards gender parity, it was up to stakeholders to enact the suggestions. When this passive stance became clearly untenable, an important plan took shape. An IOC Gender Equality Review Project was developed in early 2017 and placed in the hands of Nancy Lee, a Canadian consultant and media expert. Important leadership also came from Marisol Casado, IOC Member and Angela Ruggiero, then Chair of the Athletes’ Commission.

An 11-member project team, supported by IOC staffers, especially Sandra Lengwiler, began an exhaustive study of available resources and interviews were conducted with more than 40 important stakeholders in women’s equality matters. Now, a little more than a year later, the project recommendations have been approved by the IOC Executive Board and accepted by various groups such as the International Sports Federations (IF) and National Olympic Committee (NOC) leaders. The report acknowledges a few of the progressive steps that have been taken including: gender equality in the total number of Olympic participants; offering of leadership development opportunities; advocacy and awareness campaigns; and small increases in the appointment of women to leadership roles.

The introduction to the project report describes the crucial aspect of the project mission stating, “The project findings emphasize that if gender equality initiatives are to be successfully implemented and sustained, all recommendations should be fulfilled. Achieving across the board gender equality in sport requires clear timelines for action with the identification of responsibilities and follow up monitoring and evaluation”.

The recommendation document is more than 30 pages in length and presents 25 recommendations and full follow up monitoring plans. The recommendations are within five themes: Sport (11), Portrayal (3), Funding (3), Governance (5), and Human Resources and Evaluation (3).

According to the report, there are six consensus factors that are identified as necessary for appropriate value and practice of gender equality: 1) a leader and leadership dedicated to gender equality; 2) Allocation of funds specifically for women’s sport and the plan to employ funding as incentives; 3) Sustain and/or introduce an inclusive organizational culture; 4) Ensure women are involved in senior governance positions and assigned roles of influence in decision-making; 5) Use statutes, policies, electoral processes to entrench gender equality in the organization; 6) Monitor programs, measure and evaluate outcomes instilling accountability.

This overview of the Gender Equality Review Recommendations  is important for all advocates to read and to be fully aware of this progress and (as the title of the blog suggests) to celebrate that another milestone of action has been laid in place. Most importantly, however, it is crucial that every one of us with a role in any sport organization included in the Olympic Movement (clubs, teams, coach/officials organizations, educational institutions, media, with any affiliations to an NGB, US Olympic Committee, leagues, championship programs especially if recognized in selection processes leading to USA representation) become intimately knowledgeable concerning these recommendations and who is responsible for implementation and the processes involved with monitoring, evaluation and reporting.

We know from experience that past practice simply continues unless and until the shortcomings are made explicit and the new requirements are brought to the attention of responsible parties. In theory, Olympic Movement stakeholders are to implement the recommendations along agreed timelines; however, advocates are needed to increase educated watchfulness. So let’s celebrate the victories as they come and then…back to work!