“Faster, higher, stronger”. This is what the Olympics are all about, raw demonstration of physical strength and abilities. Well, if the motto did not tip you off yet, the Olympics (just like any sport) are gendered and here is why.
The story starts 3000 years ago in Ancient Greece. The Greeks would organise games every four year in Olympia to honour Zeus. Yes, that guy, the sky and thunder God. Small limitation though, these games were solely for men who fought against one another. An equivalent festival was organised to worship Hera, the Goddess of heaven, marriage, and the life of women, where solely unmarried women could participate. This event included foot races for unmarried women, which is ironic since in modern days, women were kept out of track and field at the Olympics for the longest time but we shall come back to that.
Sailing across history, we are now in 1896 in Athens for the first ever modern Olympic Games. Wait for it, wait for it, yes women were not allowed to participate because that would have been, I quote “improper, unaesthetic, and uninteresting”. In 1900, for the second edition in Paris, women were allowed to join but there was a catch. They could only compete in 5 sports (tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism, and golf), which were considered to be in accordance with their femininity and fragility. God forbid women should engage in raw demonstration of physical strength, right?
Jumping a bit more than a 100 years, here we are, Tokyo 2020. The queerest Olympics ever with more than 160 out athletes. The first ever gender-balanced Olympics with 49% of women participating. (Women) athletes are also accommodated in terms of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and child care like never before. The Tokyo Olympics furthermore sought to achieve more gender equity in terms of event programming, media visibility, and competitions’ quotas. It has been more of a marathon than a sprint but hey, this is progress! Yet, there is still a long way to go. The Olympics and sports in general remain an area that reinforces and creates specific ideas about man dominance and power where breaking through the sporting glass (gender) ceiling remains a constant struggle for countless athletes.
This equality was not necessarily reflected in Tokyo 2020 leadership but this is not about a shortage of women but rather a lack of opportunities. Opportunities that were denied to many because as the former Tokyo Olympic chief stated “When you increase the number of female executive members, if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying”. Well hello there sexism 2.0. Thankfully, he stepped down and was replaced by former Olympian Seiko Hashimoto. Talking about opportunities, in terms of coaches women only represent 10% of them – yes you read that right.
These Games also feature a trans woman for the first time as her testosterone level is low enough whilst at the same time disqualifying other women athletes from Namibia because their testosterone levels are considered too high. Yes, gender remains apparently tricky to define for the Olympic committee and women of colour pay the price. Yet, scientists have argued that basing inclusivity solely on testosterone levels only partially addresses the issue, since people may have high levels of testosterone but their sensitivity to it might be low, meaning that they can’t use it as much and vice versa. Because let’s be honest, the Olympics are about exceptional people, it is nonsense to believe that these people do not have some kind of physical advantages in one way or another. Not everyone who trains can become an Olympic champion or even participate. But I am getting carried away.
All in all, let’s celebrate the advancements achieved for gender equality and inclusivity without forgetting the long way we still have to go.