POSTED: October 25th 2017

NEIL WILSON: Olympic gender equality should extend to the boardroom

Actress Katerina Lechou (R), acting the high priestess, lights the Olympic flame at the Temple of Hera in Olympia / Getty Images
Actress Katerina Lechou (R), acting the high priestess, lights the Olympic flame at the Temple of Hera in Olympia / Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) One thing struck me about the ceremony of lighting the Olympic torch for next year's Winter Games when it took place at the ancient site of Olympia this week - no men.

Of course, there couldn't be if they were to follow the romanticised Hollywood version of a ceremony that probably never took place at the Ancient Olympics. The script called for Vestal Virgins.

They were Greek actresses in reality, and so was the High Priestess doing the honours of lighting the flame that will be conveyed by modern means of transport to South Korea over the next few months.

But seeing unanimity of women in the Olympic context is still odd. Even a majority of women has yet to be achieved.

Women have been second class citizens of the Olympic movement since the beginning of time. Not allowed to compete or even watch in ancient Olympics, they were kept at arm's length by Pierre de Coubertin and his aristocratic chums when he created the modern Games in the 19th century.

If Thomas Bach as the present president of the International Olympic Games has achieved anything historic in his terms of office it is the equalising of the sexes. Indeed, in 2020 the Winter Youth Olympics in the IOC's home city of Lausanne will be the first where the number of events and athletes will be completely equal.

They are getting closer than ever at the real thing. In Rio last year, 45.6% of the athletes were women. The United States, for only the second time, sent a team which contained more women than men.

And for the first time in 2012 in London - and again in Rio - under extreme pressure from the IOC every national team contained at least one woman.

In Tokyo in 2020 after the additions of mixed events to the programme, we are promised that 48.8% of the athletes will be women, closest ever to the 51% of the world's population that women comprise.

So Bach's proposal of gender equality in his Agenda 2020 is likely to be achieved in the duration of his presidency. Except in one area - his own administration.

All every well him pushing for it among athletes but he is far from the achievement in his corridors of power.

Just four women sit on his all-powerful Executive Board alongside 11 men. Just one woman is numbered among the four vice-presidents. On the IOC Commissions he has chosen there are only 38% women representatives.

And it is far worse lower down the administrative pyramid. An IOC study in 2015 found that less than 20% of members of National Olympic Committees were women and a tiny 14% sat on the executives of international sports federations.

Is it any wonder then in this year of Harvey Weinberg that we are discovering more and more allegations of abuse of women in sport, in US Olympic gymnastics and UK soccer, cycling and gymnastics.

Good governance needs gender equality. It is a century soon since the first woman sat in the US Congress and the British House of Commons. It is time surely for the first woman IOC president. That should be Bach's most fitting parting gift when it is his time to go.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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