By Emma Sherry, Associate Professor, La Trobe Business School and La Trobe University Centre for Sport and Social Impact
For the first time in the history of Australian participation in the summer Olympic Games, we have more female athletes representing our country than males. The team travelling to Rio hosts 214 women and 206 men, with cyclist Anna Meares being awarded the role as flag bearer for the team at the Opening Ceremony this weekend. Indeed, women have key leadership roles in this Games, with the Chef de Mission, Kitty Chiller, making headlines this week in her strong advocacy for the health and safety of her athletes and officials accompanying the team to Rio.
Australian women have been competing at the Olympic Games since 1912; our first female athletes were Fanny Durack and Wilhelmina Wylie at Stockholm in the sport of swimming. Australian female representation increased from 16% at Munich in 1972 to 46% at Beijing in 2008 and London 2012, where Australian female athletes won over half of all of the medals. In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics the Australian team saw 50/50 representation for the first time across both sexes in any Olympic Games.
The London 2012 Summer Olympic Games were declared the “women’s games” – with female participation in all sports and every nation represented by at least one female athlete. Since the first woman participated in the modern Olympics in Paris in 1900, female participation at the Olympic Games has increased exponentially, in both the number of athletes competing, and the number of women’s events.
The inclusion of a women’s eight rowing crew to the team (after the disqualification of the Russian team due to WADA infringements) tipped the balance in favour of the Australian women participating on the world stage in Rio. The Australian Olympic Committee has officially announced the Women’s Rowing Eight crew for the 2016 Olympic Games following the decision on July 26th by FISA (International Rowing Federation) to award Australia a qualifying place.
Charlotte Sutherland, Meaghan Volker, Fiona Albert, Lucy Stephan, Molly Goodman, Jessica Morrison, Olympia Aldersey, Alexandra Hagan and Sarah Banting (coxswain) have all been selected and these nine women tipped the gender balance of the Australian team.
The International Olympic Committee has worked for many years to promote women in sport, both on and off the field of play. The goal of gender equality is enshrined in the Olympic Charter, the guiding document for all Olympic organisations, while defining strategies to dismantle gender barriers is the primary goal of the IOC’s Women and Sport Commission.
The Australian Sports Commission also has a strong position on the promotion of gender equity in the management and support of athletes, most recently evidenced by the requirement for National Sport Organisations to equally fund athlete travel. The ASC has also identified the promotion of women in leadership roles in sport as a key priority and requires all funded national sport organisations to have a minimum of 40% gender equity on boards of directors.
For the Rio summer Olympic Games, the representation and influence of women in Australian sport has never been more apparent.