Relentlessly pushing through boundaries, women have strived to make a mark across various fields, and while they have made a considerable dent, their achievements in the sporting arena have garnered attention and admiration. Women have broken stereotypes in the pursuit of equality and sports have been enriched by their glorious feats.The recently concluded Tokyo Olympics 2020 were yet another exposition of the great talent, strength, and determination of women athletes. The world stood up and lauded the feats of women as they won medals after medals. According to the International Olympics Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Olympics were the most gender equal games.
For the first time, women comprised a record breaking 49% of participants in contrast to the first edition of the modern Olympic games in Paris in 1900 which had only 22 women participants. Though these women represented different nations, they represented the spirit and boundless capabilities of women; and, more importantly, they inspired a generation of young women to reach for the pinnacle in sport.
From rowing to weightlifting, women gave a stellar account of their prowess in Tokyo. Here’s some interesting data. Out of the total 88 medals won by China, 47 were won by women. Women bagged 18 out of the 24 medals won by Canada. Female athletes won the Netherlands 21 out of their 36 medals. Of the seven medals India won, women won three. Olympics 2020 have gone down in history as a milestone marking the growth of women in sports.
Empowerment initiatives all around the world are igniting an inextinguishable fire of hope and passion. Women are taking their chances, giving it their all, and are leading sport through passion and hard work. Several countries have spearheaded reforms to drive inclusion across fields – from science to sports –and women have created an identity for themselves as champions and winners. In 2018, Australia launched Sports diplomacy 2030, an initiative to enhance the country’s influence and reputation, and advance its national interest. Among the goals of this program is the Australian government’s aim to address barriers to the participation of women in sports in the Pacific. Being part of the larger program, the Pacific Sports Partnerships (PSP) used over 50 partnerships to enable 1.5 million participations in sporting activities and helped address inequalities experienced by women and girls. The program by the Australian government is inspired by England's 'This Girl Can', an initiative that celebrates activity among women. Launched in 2015, the initiative has successfully persuaded approximately three million women to get more active. The initiative came into being after research showed women are twice as likely as young men to be inactive, and that they experience more barriers to being physically active.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia, as part of its Vision 2030, has endeavored to increase women’s participation in sports. According to the sports ministry of the kingdom, female participation in sports in Saudi Arabia has shot up by almost 150% since 2015. As part of the program, in 2020, Saudi Arabia encouraged women to participate in its first Women’s Football League tournament. Be it fencing, motorsports or boxing, female representation has flourished under Vision 2030. Transporting from the field, women have begun taking more seats on the high table, to decide how the sport is run. Out of 64 sports federations in the Kingdom, 38 have women on the board. Saudi women are playing a pivotal role in helping the Kingdom accomplish its Vision 2030 transformation strategy.
India’s has also been a heartwarming transformation, as our women have more than matched our men in accomplishments. The government has been supportive, creating infrastructure and driving access for women to help sports flourish. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports announced Girls’ Super Leagues in Kho Kho, Basketball, Kabaddi and Football. What is truly marvelous is that women’s participation in the Khelo India Games shot up by 160% between 2018 and 2020.
Although there is phenomenal administrative energy driving equal opportunities for women in sports, more must be done to arouse interest, improve access and increase women’s participation in sports. This will lead to not just a fairer society and world but will also unlock possibilities for great glory for our country and will lead the ‘aadhi abaadi’ to realize their true potential.
By Dr. Sujata Mukhopadhyay, Head of Dept. of Journalism, University of Calcutta