Ladies at the Olympics, when is there parity?

In the stands, not in the arena: this was the place of women according to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games.

For him, “a women’s Olympiad would be impractical, uninteresting, ugly and untrue.” Pierre de Coubertin was part of the elite at the end of the 19th century. Men at the time considered a woman’s role to be the bearing and raising of children,” summarizes Pierre Lagro, sports historian and author of Olympic Century (Encyclopedia of Universalis, 2012). “At the beginning of the twentieth century, all sports were unsuitable for women. It was inappropriate to strip her ankles and then her legs, and it was inappropriate to untie her hair. Only ‘common women’ or ‘savages’ left their hair untied or exposed. It was clearly not It is conceivable then that women would sweat,” sports sociologist Catherine Lofo notes in the review Laptops of this type (2004).

First Champion: Tennis player

Thus, women first participated in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900. That year, the city hosted special games, since they were held over a period of five months, in the shadow of the World’s Fair. About twenty women out of nearly a thousand athletes participate in the Olympic Games, in two disciplines: tennis and golf, and leisure activities of the aristocracy. British tennis player Charlotte Cooper is the first woman in history to win an Olympic medal.

The Olympic world opened timidly to women in 1912 at the Stockholm Games (they represented 2% of the participants), who accepted them with swimming competitions. “Women are tolerated very early on in this sport: paradoxically, because they are naked. This is connected to the imagination of the naiad and the disappearance of suffering in the water, when medical discourse accuses other sports of abusing women’s bodies and damaging their genitals…, under the penalty of wandering their wombs through their bodies. Giving women the right to exercise means eliminating them from the home,” analyzes Julie Gaucher, a research associate in the Laboratory of Vulnerabilities and Innovation in Sport (L-VIS) at the University of Lyon 1 and author of the anthology From “athletic” to athletic (Burkan ed., 2019). Women would be able to compete in the Olympic Games in figure skating and fencing, respectively in 1908 and 1924.

misogyny issue

An atypical figure, long forgotten, is the origin of women’s emancipation through sport and the wider openness of the Olympics to it: Alice Millais, a teacher from Nantes, an accomplished athlete (rowing, field hockey …), campaigns for the development and recognition of women’s sport. “Alice Millais was a pioneer. She concretely claimed equal rights to sports. She was a feminist in action. Without her, I don’t know where we would be,” confirms Julie Gaucher. Alice Milliat canceled for years with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) before finally allowing the “weaker sex” to compete in athletics at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, in just five events: high jump, discus, 100m, 4x100m relay and 800 meters. For Coubertin, who left the presidency of the International Olympic Committee in 1925, the entry of women into the field of men is “a major insult to the greatness and original purity of this competition”. Two hundred and seventy-seven women participated in the Amsterdam Games (9.6% of the competitors). Strong media coverage. Historians of the time will describe the suffering of female athletes after the 800m with so much misogyny and ill will that the event will be removed from the women’s program until the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960.

World War II and the Vichy regime brought women home. The 1952 Helsinki Olympics marked a turning point: the Soviet Union agreed to participate in the Games, in the midst of the Cold War. “For Stalin, it is about winning as many medals as possible. The sports strategy of the Soviets was to bet on small disciplines neglected by Westerners (weightlifting, wrestling, rowing, etc.), and, above all, to promote female participation, while sports Women in the West is not a priority at all. Pierre Lagro explains that “the Soviet Union uses women to promote its ideology.” Since her first participation, she has taken second place in the general classification, after the United States, with 71 medals against 76. The USSR has given a boost Big in the race for medals, with the first participation in the Olympic Games for the German Democratic Republic. The German Democratic Republic uses women and establishes doping at the state level to win medals,” continues the historian. The ‘Olympic Cold War’ has its heroines: On the Soviet side, gymnast Larisa Latynina would for nearly half a century remain the world’s most decorated Olympic athlete (18 medals), of all genders and all disciplines combined, prior to the coronation of American swimmer Michael Phelps in London in 2012 .

Women’s athletic participation in the Olympic Games slowly declined over time, from 10.5% in 1952 to 20.7% in 1976, 34% in 1996, 38.2% in 2000, and 45% in 2016… It should be noted that since 1991 For a sport to be included in the Olympic programme, it must include women’s events. Another influential figure: The 2012 London Olympics was the first in history to which all participating nations sent female athletes.

Digital parity but interface parity

The Paris 2024 Olympics promise historic equality, declaring as many sports as the number of qualified athletes. “Today, with 48% of the participants in the Tokyo Olympics, we are almost on numerical parity, but parity for the facade, points out Pierre Lagro. We will achieve true parity when women’s sport is recognized at the same level as men’s, and when women’s sports earn as much as men’s Sports. The gains of judoka Teddy Renner, gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, have nothing to do with those of Emily Andiol, also the 2016 gold medalist in the same field.” After her feat, the jury returned to anonymity, and as Unemployed, she will have to tell the ‘kitchen’ in the media to find a job at the end of 2019. Even for Olympic champions, the game is still far from winning.

Lauren Chambal

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