[Viewpoint] Striking blow for gender equality

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[Viewpoint] Striking blow for gender equality

The inclusion of women’s boxing on the London program ensures that women will compete at every event for the first time in the 116-year history of the modern Olympic Games.

It is fitting that this milestone should take place in London, a city that has long been at the forefront of cultural change and that can point to a proud Olympic heritage as the host of two previous Olympic Games - in 1908 and 1948.

But while such parity is an important and monumental achievement, it should not be cause for complacency. Far too many women and girls continue to be denied opportunities to experience the joys and benefits of sports.

Like many other organizations throughout the world, the International Olympic Committee was slow to recognize the importance of gender equality. Even so, we were ahead of our time by some measures.

We opened doors for women long before most regions of the world accepted the idea of gender equality.

Women began competing at the second modern Olympic Games in 1900, well before they gained the right to vote in any industrialized nation. Most of the legendary women athletes of the past century - Babe Didrikson, Sonja Henie, Nadia Comaneci, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and many others - gained international prominence as a result of the Games.

The inclusion of women at the Paris Games in 1900 was a historic moment for the Olympic Movement, especially as female athletes faced strong societal pressure at the time to not take part in competitive sport, which was considered a male-only pursuit.

The Olympic Movement has long been dedicated to making sure that other girls and women do not have to overcome similar pressure.

The goal of gender equality is now enshrined in the Olympic Charter, the guiding document for all Olympic organizations, while refining strategies to dismantle gender barriers is the primary goal of the International Olympic Committee’s Women and Sport Commission, established in 2004.

The Olympic Games have seen female participation rise from 2.2 percent at Paris 1900 to 26.1 percent at Seoul 1988, and more than 42 percent at Beijing 2008. We expect to improve on that figure this summer in London.

We are making similar progress with gender equality at the Olympic Winter Games. I am very pleased that women’s ski jumping has progressed internationally to the point that it will be included in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

We will continue to use the influence of the IOC to bring about the day when all National Olympic Committees send women competitors to the Olympic Games. Indeed, only 15 years ago at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 26 National Olympic Committees failed to include female athletes in their delegations. Four years ago in Beijing, the figure had dropped to just three.

Opening the Olympic Games to more women is not just a matter of basic fairness. The Games provide a global platform for female Olympians that inspires others to follow their example.

More than 4 billion people, well over half of the world’s population, will have access to the London Games on television, the Internet or on their mobile devices.

About half of the audience will be women and girls, a gender balance few other major sporting events can hope to match. That global reach makes the Games a powerful force for gender equality.

Sport cannot cure all of society’s ills. We do not have the power to bring gender equality to all aspects of human interaction. But we can use sport to help girls and young women gain the confidence to challenge stereotypes that limit their opportunities in other endeavors.

The women boxers in London will help lead the way.

* The author is president of the International Olympic Committee.

by Jacques Rogge

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