long battle for right to compete - 14th March 2004
Female athletes have fought hard to overcome male
chauvinism at the Olympic Games, writes Robert Woodward.
Olympics would be "men-only" Games if founder
Pierre de Coubertin had had his way. Inspired by the
example of ancient Greece and the ideals of medieval
chivalry, de Coubertin saw the true Olympic hero as
an adult male.
him, the Games were "the solemn and periodic
exaltation of male athleticism . . . with the applause
of women as a reward".
a woman wishes to pilot an airplane, no policeman
has a right to stop her . . . but when it comes to
public sports competitions, women's participation
should be absolutely prohibited," the Frenchman
said in 1910.
the opposition of the first president of the International
Olympic Committee, women were allowed to compete in
the second modern Games in 1900. A century later,
they are still playing catch-up with their male teammates.
Sydney four years ago, 38 per cent of the Olympic
athletes were female. Nine of the 199 Sydney teams
did not contain a woman compared with 26 teams in
Atlanta in 1996.
of those Sydney teams had a female majority, including
a sporting superpower, China (65 per cent).
were involved in 131 of the 300 events and, after
their debut in weightlifting in 2000, they can now
win wrestling medals for the first time in Athens,
when 44 per cent of the athletes are expected to be
thought of women wrestlers would make de Coubertin
turn in his grave. He feared girls "corrupted"
young men, who otherwise would be involved in pure
de Coubertin's view, women could not physically rival
men, therefore they could not push sport "citius,
altius, fortius" (faster, higher, stronger),
the core precept of the Olympics.
also failed to see the appeal of women's events running
alongside the men's at the Games. "In our view,
this feminine semi-Olympiad is impractical, uninteresting,
ungainly and, I do not hesitate to add, improper."
the first Games were held in Athens in 1896, women
took to the Olympic stage in Paris four years later
in the tennis, golf and croquet competitions. Women
were able to enter the swimming in 1912 and to fence
in 1924, but were not allowed to take part in track
response, Frenchwoman Alice Milliat organised the
first "women's Olympics" in 1922, a one-day
event in Paris that drew big crowds. Four years later,
the event, involving 10 nations, took place in Gothenburg,
was the success of these games that the International
Amateur Athletic Federation was forced to take notice.
In exchange for Milliat dropping the Olympic tag,
officials offered her 10 events at the next Games.
women's 800 metres in 1928 triggered a storm when
the press reported that several women fell to the
ground at the end of their events. This was deemed
unseemly and in 1929, the IOC voted to exclude women
from the athletics events. The IAAF, under pressure
from the Americans, reversed the ban, although women
were not allowed to compete in the 800 metres again
1932 Los Angeles Games gave the world its first Olympic
heroine - double athletics gold medallist Mildred
Didrikson - and four gold medals won by Fanny Blankers-Koen
in 1948 changed perceptions about the prowess of women
Athens, women will compete on equal terms with men
in sailing and equestrian events and participate in
all sports except boxing.
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