When will women be equal in the Olympics?

Stand, not on the field: According to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, it was a place for women.

For her, “a women’s Olympiad would be unrealistic, distasteful, ugly and wrong.” “Pierre de Coubertin was part of the aristocracy in the late 19th century. Men of the time believed that the role of women was to conceive and raise children”, Pierre Lagru, sports historian and author. Olympic Century (Encyclopedia Universalis, 2012). “In the early 20th century, all sports were unsuitable for women. It was inappropriate to strip her ankles and then her legs, it was inappropriate to undo her hair. Only “public women” or “shameless” kept their hair open or uncovered. Clearly, it was unthinkable for women to sweat at that time, “said Katherine Lou, a sports sociologist, in the review. Genre notebook (2004).

First Champion: A tennis player

Thus, women participated in the Olympic Games in Paris for the first time in 1900. That year, the city hosted special games, as they were held for five months in the shadow of a public exhibition. About twenty out of a thousand athletes participate in the Olympic Games, in two disciplines: tennis and golf, elite leisure activities. British tennis player Charlotte Cooper became the first woman in history to win an Olympic medal.

At the 1912 Stockholm Games (they represented 2% of the participants), the world of Olympics was terrifyingly open for those who entered their swimming competitions. “Women are tolerated very quickly in this game: a paradox, because they are naked. It is associated with Nyad’s imagination and the invisibility of suffering in the water, while medical discourse accuses other sports of abusing women’s bodies, damaging the reproductive organs … Women were never supposed to, for example, ride a bicycle, their uterus around their bodies. Under the penalty of wandering, or high jump, associated with the risk of infertility. Giving women the right to play sports means evicting them from their homes, “said Julie Gaucher, associate researcher and anthropologist at Lyon 1 University’s Laboratory on Vulnerabilities and Innovation in Sport (L-VIS). Sportswoman from “Sportswoman” (Volcano Edition, 2019). Women will be able to compete in the Olympics in figure skating and fencing in 1908 and 1924, respectively.

It’s a misnomer

An atypical figure at the heart of the long-awaited liberation of women through sports and the massive launch of the Olympic Games for them: Alice Milliat, a teacher at Nantes, a skilled athlete (rowing, field hockey …), campaigning for the development and recognition of women’s sports . “Alice Milliat was a pioneer. She strongly advocated for equal rights to sports. She was a feminist at work. Without it, I don’t know where we would be,” underlined Julie Gaucher. Alice Milliat had previously canceled years with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in just five events: high jump, discus throw, 100 meters, 4 × 100 meters relay and 800 meters. Two hundred and eight women took part in the Amsterdam Games (9.6% of the contestants). Media coverage is strong. Describe with bad faith that this event will be removed from the women’s program until the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

World War II and the Vichy regime sent women back home. The 1952 Helsinki Olympics marked a turning point: the USSR agreed to participate in the Games in the midst of the Cold War. “For Stalin, it was about winning as many medals as possible. The Soviet’s sports strategy was to bet on minor disciplines neglected by the West (weightlifting, wrestling, rowing, etc.) and, above all, to promote women’s participation, where women’s sports were not a priority in the West.” Using women to propagate his ideology, “explains Pierre Lagru. From his first participation, he finished second in the general category, close to the United States, with 71 medals against 76. Four years later, in Melbourne, the Soviet Union won 98 medals against 74 capitalists. Bury the enemy. “In 1968, the USSR gave a great impetus to the medal race by GDR’s first participation in the Olympic Games. The GDR used women and established state doping to win medals,” the historian continued. : Soviet side gymnast Larissa Latinina is the world’s most decorated Olympic athlete (18 medals) for almost half a century, of all genders and Michael Phelps, an American swimmer in London in 2012 before the coronation, will continue to be disciplined.

In Western society, women’s participation in the Olympics has gradually increased over time, from 10.5% in 1952 to 20.7% in 1976, 34% in 1996, 38.2% in 2000, and 45% in 2016. In order to include a sport in the Olympic program, it must include a women’s event. Another transformative picture: the first in the history of the 2012 London Games where all participating countries sent female athletes.

Digital parity but front parity

The 2024 Paris Olympics promise historic equality, declaring many athletes as qualified athletes. “Today, with 48% of participants in the Tokyo Olympics, we have almost numerical equality, but it is a frontier equality,” said Pierre Lagru. In the same vein as Olympic gold medalist Judoka Teddy Reiner’s profit, it has nothing to do with 2016 gold medalist Emily Andole’s profit. . Even for Olympic champions, the game is still a long way off.

Lauren Champale

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