The Sochi 2014 Olympics: A Gender Equality Audit from the Centre for Sport Policy Studies (CSPS) @ University of Toronto

Click the cover image to access report.

The Sochi 2014 Olympics: A Gender Equality Audit is the most recent of a series of gender audits on major Games being carried out by the Centre for Sport Policy Studies (CSPS) @ University of Toronto. We’re pleased to bring the full report to our readers for free download. Click on the cover to the right to access the report. The executive summary is included in the report.

Executive Summary

Although the IOC’s commitment to “act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement,” received considerable attention during Sochi 2014 because of Russia’s antiAgay laws, its mission “to support and promote gender equality” received surprisingly little attention from the IOC and the media reporting about the Games. Surprising, because this was the first Olympic Games after the much celebrated achievements for women at the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

Only 40.4% of the 2866 athletes competing in Sochi 2014 were women (1158 women, 1708 men). This was a proportionate decrease from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, where women made up 40.7% of the athletes competing, and is the first decrease in the percentage of women athletes at a Winter Olympic Games since 1988. This decrease occurred despite an increase in the number of women’s and mixed gender events.

Given these clear inequalities, this Report continues the project started with the publication of The London 2012 Olympics: A Gender Equality Audit (Donnelly & Donnelly, 2013) – to assess “what’s left to do to achieve gender equality at the Olympics?” Our focus is on the basics of the Olympic sports: what differences remain between the ways that men and women athletes are involved in Olympic competitions? In this Research Report, we analyze the seven sports/15 competitions and 98 events at the Sochi 2014 Olympics for the purpose of identifying gender differences in their structures and rules, and in the opportunities for men and women athletes. This enables us to see what is the same and what is different between men’s and women’s events; to make comparisons between events and sports; to see where equality has been achieved; and to ask questions about sports/events in which there are still differences between men’s and women’s competitions. Differences in men’s and women’s opportunities to participate and the ways in which they are able to participate (i.e., what their participation looks like and how it is experienced) may reveal important assumptions about gender and, specifically, about presumed essential differences between women and men.

There were 45.25 women’s events, and 52.75 men’s events at the Sochi 2014 Olympics – in other words there were 7.5 more opportunities to win a gold medal for men than for women. Seven events were open only to men and no events were open only to women. Only 14.3% of the events (14 of 98 events) were equal for men and women in terms of the maximum number of competitors permitted and the rules of competition. Sochi 2014 featured five events in which men and women competed together, and these constituted 5.1% of all events. Each of these mixed gender events included gender differences. Finally, 73.5% of the Sochi 2014 Olympic programme (72 of 98 events) contained gender differences in terms of the maximum number of competitors permitted and/or in the rules and structural aspects of competition.

The data presented in this Report indicate that, while there has been an extended period of increasing gender equality at the Winter Olympic Games, there are still substantial differences in terms of opportunities to participate and the structural characteristics of the competition. The firstAtime inclusion of women’s Ski Jumping at Sochi 2014 is a step toward gender equality, and the continued exclusion of women from Nordic Combined competition seems anachronistic. Mixed gender events need to be investigated closely – they do not always offer equal opportunities for men and women.

Our priority recommendations are:

  1. Equalize the number of events/medals available to men and women; and
  2. Establish near equivalence in the number of men and women who are permitted to compete at the Olympic Games, and in specific Olympic sports/events.

It is no longer justifiable to maintain an Olympic programme on which there are 7.5 more events for men than for women. With regard to gender exclusive sports and events, it is necessary to consider and discuss the remaining differences between men’s and women’s sports and events on the Olympic programme. It is not necessary to add or establish the same (equal/identical) events for women and men; however, it is necessary to add equitable (similar) events and to achieve the same number of events (opportunities for medals) for women and men at the Olympics. In addition, given that there were 550 more men than women competing in Sochi, and that some 57.1% (8 of 14) of competitions open to both women and men at the Sochi 2014 Olympics stipulated a higher maximum quota of men than women competitors, it is now time for all of the existing sports to more equitably represent men and women competitors.

Additional recommendations concern the rules and structures of events. Expert panels should be established to consider all remaining differences in and between sports and, in all cases, to establish consistency within and between sports.

In order to resolve remaining questions of equality, a panAOlympic movement process will be necessary, on the same order as the process that harmonized antiA doping rules and procedures. The IOC has shown that it is capable of exerting powerful diplomatic pressure in the face of intransigence – perhaps similar endeavours are necessary to persuade the remaining International Federations (IFs) to establish gender equality in their sports. The beginning of a new presidency offers the IOC the opportunity to make all forms of gender equality a priority, and to enforce this through regulation of both its member countries and affiliated IFs.

This Research Report applauds the IOC for its achievements toward gender equality, particularly in the last 20 years. However, there is still some distance to go before equality is realized in the basic aspects of participation that are the subject of the Report. Our recommendations are directed primarily to the IOC for a very specific reason: the IOC controls access to the Olympic Games and, by its recent actions, has shown that it recognizes gender inequality is no longer acceptable in the Olympic Games.

Finally, this Report focuses on the basics of equality in participation and competition rather than on broader issues of funding and sponsorship, publicity and media representation, leadership, and the troubling issue of gender verification. We argue that those other concerns may be easier to resolve once there is a basic fairness in terms of participation and competition. We see this Report as a way to continue the discussion about why gender differences were introduced in sports, what differences remain, how those differences compare across sports, why they remain, and how they may be resolved. In addition, we argue that it is crucial for athletes and former athletes to be involved in these discussions – they are the only experts who really matter.

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