Olympics 2020 from the Gender lens

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Olympics 2020 from the Gender lens

Olympics 2020

The Tokyo Olympics 2020 had everyone’s eyes since it was kicked off a year after being postponed due to the pandemic. With 339 events in 33 different sports with a total of 50 disciplines, the event garnered worldwide excitement and support and was ended with a bang on the 8th of August, 2021.

Besides interesting games, the Olympics had some amazing highlights. From Simone Biles withdrawal from games for her mental well-being and then an amazing comeback for a bronze medal, Olympics 2020 truly gave us some heartwarming moments to all the exciting moments created by the determined athletes. Although the COVID19 rate plummeted in Tokyo during the Olympics, the games added colors into otherwise grey moods of the pandemic-affected world.

Among others, one of the major highlights of the event was Olympic 2020 being the first-ever gender-balanced Olympic Games in history with 48.5% women participation in all games. This is up from previous games where we saw 45% at the 2016 Rio Games and 44.2% at London 2012. As such, this year we got to witness women from diverse ranges and ages, from 13-year-old swimmers to a mother of 3 children coming after her retirement.

Historically, the Olympic Games were not equal to women players as with most of the sports that were considered men’s arena. In 1894, when the Olympic Games were founded, they were reserved for male athletes as a celebration of virility. Women were admitted in 1900 as participants in sports that were considered to be compatible with their femininity and fragility but were excluded from the showpiece events of track and field. On the initiative of the Frenchwoman Alice Milliat and the International Women’s Sports Federation (FSFI), a power struggle began with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Women’s Olympiads were organized from 1922 to 1934 to force the committee to yield. The Olympics slowly became feminized, although gender imbalance was dominant throughout the twentieth century, including in the IOC. To minimize the gender imbalance, the Olympic charter has made women’s participation mandatory in every sport since 2007. In 2014, the European Commission defended equality in sport, and IOC added gender parity to the 2020 Olympics agenda.

In this line of embracing gender equality, more steps were promoted by the IOC in Olympics 2020.

IOC asked each country to nominate one man and one woman to be the flag bearers, with countries like China and Mongolia having a woman flag bearer for the first time.

IOC also introduced new sports- baseball, softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, and surfing where there will be both men’s and women’s competition, and more mixed-gender games, a mixed triathlon relay, a mixed doubles event in table tennis, and mixed events in judo, archery and shooting were added in 2020.

Moreover, recognizing the need for structural equality, IOC also increased the number of women executives in the IOC with more than 46% of women members. This Olympic Games also set the landmark of having all 206 NOCs represented by at least one male and one female athlete together in their delegations.

However, the Olympic Games still have a long way to go to ensure absolute gender balance and equality, because, despite the landmark moves, there were a couple of decisions completely unfavorable of the gender equality theme.

One of them is regarding the Norwegian Women’s beach handball team being fined on the grounds of too long shorts. Conversely, British Paralympian Olivia Breen was told by an official that her briefs were too short. Men beach handball players, on other hand, are free to wear shorts as long as 10 centimeters above the knee just as long as they aren’t “too baggy”. Moreover, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) banned the use of swimming caps made specifically to protect dreadlocks, afros, weaves, braids, and thick curly hair for the 2021 Games saying the product doesn’t fit ‘the natural form of the head’ putting in disadvantage players like Alice Dearing. Although the committee has lauded Olympics 2020 for being gender-balanced, the scrutinizing comments and judgments on female players’ sportswear were disappointing. Furthermore, the new mothers who were nursing their young babies also complained about COVID-related restrictions that prohibited them from bringing their babies to the games. As per Janice Forsyth, former director of Western University’s International Center for Olympic Studies in Ontario “The reasons pertaining to such gender insensitive reasons are often commercial, women players and games are considered as a lucrative marketing scheme to attract more hetero-sexual men into watching the game and thereby increasing sponsorships and contracts”.

Nevertheless, the Olympics 2020 was indeed a great platform encouraging women athletes across the world, at the same time bringing to light the various gender issues in sports that need to be addressed in the coming days.


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