altThe Olympics certainly pack a punch when it comes to shining a light on issues within sport. The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision regarding women’s boxing, which will be made today, is no exception.

It will probably surprise many to know that women have been boxing from as early as the 1720s. Back then, it was bouts in London, but over the years it won a place on the world stage with the women’s World Championships; so why then has it taken nearly 300 years to get women in the Olympic ring? And what does this say about gender equality in sport?
The fact of the matter is, men have had a huge head start and there’s still a long way to close the gap.
Today, women hold just one in five of the top jobs in British sport, investment in women’s sport lags far behind men’s and as little as two per cent of national sports media coverage is devoted to female competitors and teams. In Beijing last year 165 gold medals were available to men versus 127 to women.
So as much as the Olympic Games help shine a light on inequality, they also offer a rare opportunity to tackle the problem. Hosting the London 2012 Olympic Games provides a unique opportunity to address historical discrimination against women at the highest levels of sport. The IOC Executive Board has the opportunity to approve more gold medals for women in a range of sports including boxing, canoe/ kayak, cycling, and shooting, and I sincerely hope they do.
At the same time, they have a responsibility to ensure that they do not weaken the standard of competition in those sports or to devalue what it means to be “Olympic Gold Medalist”. Therefore it would be absurd to suggest that within each sport there needs to be exact parity of medal opportunities, however across the whole programme of Olympic sports, there can be no legitimate reason not to ensure gender equality of medal opportunities and athlete quotas.
The IOC has another responsibility which I know it takes very seriously, and that is to use the Games to inspire young people across the world to participate in sport and to become physically active. In many countries across the world, obesity levels amongst young people are a growing concern and it is very disturbing that recent figures show that in Britain girls are only half as active as boys by the time they’re 16.
I believe that this is partially due to the fact that girls grow up seeing only men’s sport in the press and on TV. The one time this changes is every four years at the Olympics, which makes it even more vital that the IOC do everything in their power to ensure that women’s sport is given as many opportunities at that level as the men.
The Olympic Movement has come along way since Baron Pierre de Coubertin stated that women’s only role in the Games should be to “crown the victorious men”. But the recent controversy over the IOC’s continued opposition to the inclusion of female ski jumping in the winter Olympics has shown that the battle to ensure that the Olympics are equally inspiring to girls, as it is to boys, is not over yet. I hope that the decision regarding women’s boxing indicates positive change.
The IOC President Jacques Rogge has stated that his ultimate goal is “50-50 participation”, and he has a chance to make good progress for London 2012, but it seems that whatever the Executive Board decides there is still work to be done.
Tim joined the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) in May 2008 to boost the organisation’s capacity in helping National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of sport to deliver their activities in ways which attract more women and girls. He has had a long career in sport including an MA in Sports Development from the University of Gloucester. Tim is a keen hockey player for the Burnt Ash 3rd XI, and hasn’t accepted that he cannot make the 2012 Olympic squad yet.