The end of sexism in sports?


The marathon to gender equality in the Olympic Games has been achieved.


Kacem Jlidi
5 August 2012

At 9 PM, July 27, the world has paused to watch the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.  

I’m not writing here to further market the world’s biggest and most important sporting event, but I would like to emphasise one fact that got my attention: this is the first time in the Olympic history where every participating country has female athletes in their teams! 

This means all 204 nations are being represented in London this year by athletes from both genders. This is an incredible achievement; not only in terms of having female athletes from all countries but also having female teams in all the Olympic disciplines.  That gender equality is perhaps as important as the Olympics themselves. We are talking about the end of sexism in sports!  

It has been a long journey. Taking part in the Ancient Olympic Games was exclusively limited to free male athletes.  According to Top-End-Sports, a Sports Bulletin, ‘the only way women were able to take part was to enter horses in the equestrian events. There are records of several horse-owning women winners. As the owner of the horse teams, they were credited with the victory, though they were most likely not present at the events’. ( Mitt Romney’s wife seems to be keeping this tradition going… )

But at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896, no women competed; such was Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s wish. As founder of the International Olympic Committee and father of the modern Olympic Games, he argued that the inclusion of women would be ‘impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect’.

And now we have recently added female boxing to the Olympic disciplines, resulting in no remaining sports that do not include events for women.

For the first time in African and Arab sports history, Tunisia will field both female and male tennis players in the global sports event. Ons Jabeur, a 17-year-old who won the French Open girls’ singles title last year, and Malek Jaziri, 28, will vie for Olympic victory, according to Tunisia Live.

Prior to London 2012, Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia, three Islamic countries, had never sent a female athlete before. “Their participation in these Olympics has followed years of lobbying from feminist and human rights groups to end the “gender apartheid” in sport”, reported Jeremy Wilson from the Telegraph.

Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, published the most detailed report yet on sport in Saudi Arabia earlier this year. His findings -“Saudi Arabia is unique in the world in effectively banning sports for women,” he said - especially highlighting the health consequences of girls being denied sport even at school, were greeted with considerable shock.

So the marathon to gender equality in the Olympic Games has been achieved. In the minds, cultures and religions of the world, however, there are yet many hurdles to overcome.

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