TOUGH BALANCING ACT

How Paris Olympics strives for gender equality

Achieving gender parity in participant numbers requires more than simply balancing the number of male and female athletes across each sport.

In Summary

•For the first time in its 128-year history, the Olympics is poised to achieve an exact 50-50 gender split among its participants, marking a notable milestone. 

•For instance, rhythmic gymnastics, which includes 94 female athletes, remains a female-exclusive discipline. 

 

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony welcoming the Olympic flame of Paris 2024 at the Vieux-Port (Old Port) in Marseille, southern France, on May 8
French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony welcoming the Olympic flame of Paris 2024 at the Vieux-Port (Old Port) in Marseille, southern France, on May 8
Image: XINHUA

 The forthcoming Paris Olympics has been touted as potentially the most gender-equal Games in history— a claim that, while debatable, reflects significant strides toward inclusivity.

For the first time in its 128-year history, the Olympics is poised to achieve an exact 50-50 gender split among its participants, marking a notable milestone.

Projections indicate that 10,500 athletes are set to compete in Paris, with an equal representation of 5,250 men and 5,250 women. But how could this remarkable balance be achieved?

The Paris Games will feature 32 sports encompassing 329 events.

Achieving gender parity in participant numbers requires more than simply balancing the number of male and female athletes across each sport.

For instance, rhythmic gymnastics, which includes 94 female athletes, remains a female-exclusive discipline.

Similarly, Greco-Roman wrestling does not feature female competitors. Mostly dominated by women due to substantial performance gaps, male athletes are allowed to compete in artistic swimming for the first time in Olympic history in the team event in Paris, though none have been named among the 10 qualified teams.

To address these disparities, organisers have adjusted the team quotas in collective sports like water polo and football, trying to ensure overall gender parity.

Men's water polo will have 12 teams, while the women's competition will feature 10. In football, 16 men's teams and 12 women's teams will compete in Paris.

Equestrian events stand out in Olympic sports as the sole discipline where men and women compete directly against each other, even without distinction between horses.

Female equestrians have demonstrated prowess on par with their male counterparts, as evidenced by the Tokyo Olympics, where women claimed nine out of 15 golds in equestrian events.

Yet, some argue that the unique nature of equestrian sports, where the horse's role can diminish the significance of the rider's gender, facilitates such mixed-gender competition.

Outside of mixed team events, separating male and female competitors respects physiological differences and should be considered as a different form of promoting gender equality.

It remains to be seen if this precise gender balance will be maintained by the time the Paris Olympics officially commence, as various factors could influence the final count. N

Nevertheless, France's committed effort to uphold gender equality has been unmistakable, fitting for a nation that has produced luminaries such as Marie Curie, Joan of Arc, Simone Weil, and Simone de Beauvoir.