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Women at the Olympics

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Subject: Olympics of Grace, 1992 Winter Olympics, 1952 Winter Olympics, 1960 Summer Olympics, 2006 Winter Olympics
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Women at the Olympics

The participation of women at the Olympics has always been below 50%. It has risen from about 10% until World War II to 45% in 2012. Certain sports that have been historically popular with women often are not included in the Olympics or are only recent additions to the games.

Women participants at each Summer Olympic Games as a percentage of all participants

Attending the games

In some countries like Australia, getting funding for women to participate in the Olympics during the early years of the Games was difficult. Twenty years ago, the Australian swimming federation did not want to spend money to send female athletes to compete in the games; rather, they wanted to spend money to fund more participation of male swimmers.[1] Sending a woman athlete (like Thelma Kench from New Zealand in 1932) also required the extra cost of a chaperone with the team.

Media coverage

Historically, coverage and inclusion of women's team sports in the Olympics has been limited.[2] Instead, the media focuses on female athletes in non-team competitions and on team sports played equally by both genders.[2]

The Games

Rome 1960

The role American women at the Olympics gained in importance and visibility compared to their male American peers.[3]


Since 1991, all new sports asking to be included in the Olympic program must feature women’s events. [4] The 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics in which women competed in all sports in the program. [5]


Women's basketball has been contested in the Summer Olympics since 1976.


Women's boxing was first introduced at the 2012 Summer Olympics with Nicola Adams winning the first boxing gold medal in the flyweight division.


While men's road and track cycling have been Olympic disciplines since the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896, there were no women's cycling events in the Olympic programme until the 1984 Games in Los Angeles when the first women's road race was held. The first track cycling event for women followed in 1988, but the 2012 London Games were the first with equal numbers of events for men and women, which entailed a reduction in the number of men's events as well as an increase in the number of women's events. The disciplines of mountain biking and BMX were introduced in 1996 and 2008 respectively, with separate men's and women's events from the outset.[6]

Ice hockey

Canadian Hayley Wickenheiser is the all-time leading scorer in the women's tournament[7] and was named tournament MVP twice.[8]

At the that year's World Championships, could not be competitive.[9] According to Glynis Peters, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association's (CAHA) head of female hockey, "the Japanese would have to finance an entirely new sports operation to bring their team up to Olympic standards in six years, which they were also really reluctant to do."[10] In November 1992, the NWOOC and IOC Coordination Committee reached an agreement to include a women's ice hockey tournament in the programme.[9] Part of the agreement was that the tournament would be limited to six teams, and no additional facilities would be built. The CAHA also agreed to help build and train the Japanese team so that it could be more competitive.[10] The IOC had agreed that if the NWOOC had not approved the event, it would be held at the 2002 Winter Olympics.[9] The format of the first tournament was similar to the men's: preliminary round-robin games followed by a medal round playoff.[11]


In 1991, fast-pitch softball was selected to debut as a medal event for women-only at the 1996 Summer Olympics[12] The 1996 Olympics also marked a key era in the introduction of technology in softball; the IOC funded a landmark biomechanical study on pitching during the games. The 117th meeting of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted to drop softball and baseball for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.[13][14] Attempts to get softball readded to the Olympic program for the 2016 games failed when the International Olympic Committee executive board instead selected golf and rugby sevens.[15] The United States have won three of the four Olympic tournaments.[16][17]


Women's weightlifting made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Games in Sydney, with the following weight classes:

  • 48 kg
  • 53 kg
  • 58 kg
  • 63 kg
  • 69 kg
  • 75 kg
  • +75 kg

Around the world



Two female swimmers stand on a wooden pool deck wearing bathing suits that have short sleeves and while full bodied, look like shorts go down to just above the knee
Fanny Durrack (left) and Mina Wylie, Australian swimmers, in 1912

Fanny Durack was Australia's first female gold medalist.[18] She earned this medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics,[19] where she represented a combined team of Australia and New Zealand, known as the Australasian team.[1]

Participation costs for Australian athletes, costs like travel to and lodging at, early Olympic games were expected to be paid by the local sport federation sponsoring the athlete.[1]

In early Australian swimming history as it pertains to the Olympics, there was an attempt to prevent women from participating by male Australian swimming administrators.[19]

See also

Women's sports

Olympic recognition

Netball is an amazing sport and it was very sad for us for it not to be in the Olympic Games so it would be amazing if we could get it in next time round. It would be brilliant for the girls coming through to get that opportunity to play at the Olympics because it is the sporting pinnacle if you can achieve that goal.

Tamsin Greenway, England wing attack[20]

Throughout the history of the Olympics, sports popular exclusively with women or that have been very popular with women have been excluded.[21] The situation extends beyond the popular women's sport of netball to women's cycling, which was excluded for many years despite having world championships for women being organised by 1958.[21] It extends to field hockey, a sport included for men as early as 1908 but not competed by women until 1980.[21] Lawn bowls is a popular women's sport that has been included in the Commonwealth Games for many years but has not made the Olympic program.[21] While primarily a sport for women, netball allows for mixed gendered teams,[22][23] but the Olympics do not allow mixed gendered team sports.[21][note 1]

The issues facing netball are part of a larger problem involving female participation in the Olympics.[21] At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, there were 159 sports for men to compete in, but only 86 sports for women, and 12 sports for both men and women.[25] At the 2000 Summer Olympics, there were still sports that women were excluded from participating in, such as boxing, wrestling and baseball; softball was included as a women-only event. The issue of male over-representation in terms of total number of sports and athletes is structural. In the United Kingdom, for example, more male athletes than female athletes received financial support. Sports officials rationalised this uneven distribution of funding by claiming that there are more opportunities for men to win on the highest level than there are comparable opportunities for women.[25] The importance of netball being included as a competition sport in the Summer Olympics has been compared to softball, and the benefits that the sport derived from Olympic inclusion.[26] This included additional media attention and television coverage, especially during Olympic years.[26] Olympic recognition plays an important part in getting sponsorship for local competitions around the world.[27] It also plays an important role in providing recognition to and opportunities for females that may not be available otherwise.[27]

The selection of women's teams sport in the Olympics may not match with interest levels in a country.[2] In Australia for example, 245,300 total women and girls play basketball, hockey, soccer, softball and volleyball.[2] This compares to 319,500 women and girls who play netball.[2]

Since 1991, all new sports asking to be included in the Olympic program must feature women’s events. [28] The 2012 Olympic Games in London were the first Olympics in which women competed in all sports in the program. [29]


The lack of Olympic recognition hampered the globalisation of the game in developing countries,[30] because the Olympic Solidarity Movement provides access to funding for these nations through the International Olympic Committee.[30] In some countries such as Tanzania, the lack of access to Olympic funding cut off other funding options such funding by British Council.[31] With official recognition, funding from the IOC, the Olympic Solidarity Movement and the British Council became available to cover costs for travel to international competitions.[30] For some nations, without that assistance, trying to maintain international calibre teams was difficult.[30] Olympic recognition brought money for development into the sport.[32] In 2004, IFNA received a grant of US$10,000 from the IOC for development.[32] IFNA was given an additional US$3,300 a year until 2007 by the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports (ARISF).[32]

Beyond access to funds from the International Olympic Committee, Olympic recognition is often a requirement for getting funding from state and national sporting bodies, and state and federal governments. This has been the case in Australia,[33] and British Columbia, Canada.[34] In 1985, the Australian Sports Commission and the Office of the Status of Women identified five criteria for obtaining federal funding.[33] One of these was: "status as an Olympic sport and its size by registrations."[33][note 2] In British Columbia, one of the guidelines says that in order to receive funding, "The sport must be on the program for either the 2011 or 2013 Canada Games and/or the next scheduled recognized International Multi-Sport Games (Olympics/Paralympics, Pan American or Commonwealth Games, Special Olympic World Games)."[34]

At the 2012 Summer Olympics, the American team, for the first time, had more female athletes, 269, than male, 261.[35]


  1. ^ While team mixed gendered sports are not competed at the Olympics, some mixed gendered events are included. They include equestrian sports, shooting and sailing where men and women compete against each other. In shooting and sailing, women were originally only allowed to competed in mixed gendered events. Single gender events for these sports were not added until a later date.[24]
  2. ^ Netball qualified for funding because it met the other criteria. From 1980 to 1984, the sport received A$497,000 in funding.[33]


  1. ^ a b c Howell & Howell 1988, p. 26
  2. ^ a b c d e Jones 2004, p. 143
  3. ^ Maraniss 2008, p. xiii
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^  
  7. ^ a b The Canadian Press 2008
  8. ^ Yen 2008
  9. ^ a b c The New York Times 1992
  10. ^ a b Ormsby 1992
  11. ^ 2006
  12. ^ International Softball Federation
  13. ^ Singapore National Olympic Council
  14. ^ de Vries, Lloyd (8 May 2011). "Strike 3 for Olympic Baseball".  
  15. ^ Wilson, Stephen (23 August 2009). "Golf, rugby backed by IOC board for 2016 Games". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  16. ^ International Softball Federation 2006
  17. ^ International Softball Federation 2002
  18. ^ Howell & Howell 1988, p. 24
  19. ^ a b Howell & Howell 1988, p. 25
  20. ^ Jordan 2011
  21. ^ a b c d e f Dyer 1982, p. 205
  22. ^ Symons & Hemphill 2006, p. 122
  23. ^ Samoa Observer 2011
  24. ^ International Olympic Committee 2008, p. 5
  25. ^ a b Pfister & Hartmann-Tews 2002, p. 274
  26. ^ a b Taylor 2001a, p. 15
  27. ^ a b First National Bank 2010
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ a b c d Crocombe 1992, p. 156
  31. ^ Massoa & Fasting 2002, p. 120
  32. ^ a b c Shooting for Success 2004, p. 1
  33. ^ a b c d Australian Sport Commission & Office of the Status of Women 1985, p. 92
  34. ^ a b Community, Sport and Cultural Development - Province of British Columbia 2010, p. 5
  35. ^ "U.S.A Olympic Team: American Women Outnumber Men On London 2012 Delegation". Huffington Post (Colorado Springs, Colorado). Associated Press. July 10, 2012. Retrieved July 13, 2012. 


Yen, Yi-Wyn (20 February 2008). "Canada's leading star".  

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