International Women’s Day – Olympic Women

To celebrate International Women’s Day we have a guest blog from UEL’s Maxine Newlands, who recently returned from Los Angeles having attended the the Fifth International Olympics Committee (IOC) ‘Women in Sport: Together, Stronger: the Future of Sport’ conference, with six UEL sports journalism students.

Left to Right: Dominique Hume, Zsanette Furka, James Campbell, Lord Sebastian Coe, Chris Deacon, Andrew Bontiff, David Charley.

Women in Sport: From Mentor to Masculinity

By Maxine Newlands

The Fifth International Olympic Committee (IOC) ‘Women in Sport: Together, Stronger: the Future of Sport’ conference spoke of ‘progress’, ‘equality’, ‘mentoring’, ‘role models, ‘success’ and ‘challenges’.  The conference welcomed 750 delegates from 140 countries to Los Angeles. The six University of East London Students, (and LERI Fellow, Maxine Newlands) were by far the largest cohort from the United Kingdom.

Joint hosts, IOC, United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG), used the conference to celebrate 40 years of ‘Title IX’.  Title Nine is piece of American legislation (1972) that prohibits “sex discrimination in educational institutions… all university student services and academic programs including, but not limited to, admissions, financial aid, academic advising, housing, athletics, recreational services, college residential life programs, health services, counselling and psychological services” [1]. Yet it seems not much has changed since 1972, because underneath celebration lay a male dominant discourse.

Many of the panels were lacking any clear discussions on equal responsibility for both men and women.  The various sessions did well to address the disparity between men and women in the sporting arena, but lacked genuine discussions on how sport can be a mechanism for examining equality as a socio-cultural issue.  Women were called on to be more proactive in advancing the cause of women- yet there was no mention of what men can do. The dominant role of men in sport was inescapable, from the opening video that was notable for its absence of female athletes to discussion on male dominated sports.  Topics of discussion ranged from discourses of equality and empowerment, sports as a tool for positive action, and a mechanism for equal rights.

Sport was also spoken about by female advocates, as offering a place of safety, and as a platform for action. Female Olympians discussed their work as role models, whilst veteran Olympic journalists advocated female mentors. USA Today columnist, Christine Brennan, said the IOC should pay as much attention to women’s sport as the construction of Olympic sites, a point echoed by NBC Producer Molly Solomon. Olympian Benita Fitzgerald noted  “ women make up 38-42% of the USA’s sports participants” yet only “6-8% of total sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport” raising more questions on how to overcome difficulty and the ubiquitous glass ceiling.

Lord Sebastian Coe, Director for London 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympics Games drew his female inspiration from his sisters and Margret Thatcher.  The former MP for Falmouth and Cambourne sprinkled his speech with tales of female dominance, with a discourse of politics to the amusement of delegates.  Coe stressed the importance of role models, and pointed delegates to the International Inspire scheme. He highlighted LOCOG’s ambitions to have equality in all areas of the organisation.  LOCOG Director of Communications, Jackie Brockdolye lead the charge for London firing figures of 60% LOCOG staff work in communication, 60% of the Human Resources are women, as are 54% of the Olympic Park Legacy Company

The Olympics and Paralympics are one of the few sporting events that provide parity between men and women, but off the field divisions still remain. IOC President Jacque Rogge placated the delegate with the announcements of two new female IOC members, but that still means 80% are men.

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One Response to International Women’s Day – Olympic Women

  1. Iain says:

    Maxine, this is great..I am using it with your students today! Best, Iain

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