Women at the Olympic Games

The male, in most animal species, was built for competition. The hunter / gatherer competed with nature to bring food home for his family. He also competed with other tribes for hunting ground. Of the most vicious competition was in the fight for a mate that would ensure the continuation of a strong family line. Through the ages this competition has evolved into all areas of life – war, politics, sport, business and socially.

For the female of the species, competition has been more about survival – whatever it took to keep the offspring fed and safe (and to keep herself safe and well to be able to care for them). The evolution of this competition has spilled into the traditional world of the male. Today this competition is probably the most aggressive. Women are competing to be recognised as equals in most areas of life, but most importantly in business, (positions and salaries) and of course in sport.

For those females in the First World, sport is just about finding an interest after having the opportunity to be exposed to a range of individual and team sports. The next step is to find out where to participate, which may be to join a club and then just getting on with it. Funding can be a problem, but ultimately it is possible, available and of course acceptable.

In so many countries in the world, for a young girl to even express an interest in a sport or a desire to compete, brings shame to the family. This is Western influence and seen as totally unacceptable.

But, the first females to compete at the Olympic Games were Madame Brohy and Mademoiselle Ohnier, who both represented France at Croquet in 1900. Only 22 females of the 997 athletes competed in Paris that year, and in just 5 sports. By 1964 in Tokyo, female competitors were up to 13%, Los Angeles in 1984 it was 23% and this almost doubled for the 2008 Beijing Games to 43%. This year in London, the number rose yet again.

Women’s boxing has now been added to the Olympic programme, and this means women will now be competing in all sports at the Summer Olympic Games. And, for the first time ever, all competing countries will have at least 1 female competitor.

The IOC is committed to gender equality and is focused on increasing female participation in all aspects of sport, including in the fields of coaching, managing and administration. This commitment falls into the UN’s Millennium Goals of promoting gender equality, and thus the IOC works closely with United Nations organisations to fund, develop and manage a range of projects across all the continents.

Tahmina Kohistani, Afghanistan’s only female competitor says that her success is measured not by winning a medal, “The most important thing is that I represent my country. To me this is a bigger prize than a gold medal”. Her hope is to inspire females in Afghanistan to participate in sport. Tahmina proudly carried the flag for Afghanistan at the opening ceremony and she said she carried it for her countrywomen.

Before she went into the stadium, a friend of Tahmina told her, “You’re a champion. You can do this”. This, she said, made her so proud. She is more positive and enthusiastic about the future of female athletes in Afghanistan and across the world than ever before. This is reflected in the Olympic Village where the world has come together.

“There is nothing different between us: black or white, boy or girl, Muslim or non-Muslim. We are all athletes in the Village” she adds.

The Olympic spirit and ideals are powerful, and through sport, the world can become a very different place…

Having been a Games Maker at London 2012, more of my experiences can be found on my blog: http://www.dawndenton.wordpress.com


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