Story at a glance

  • Gender representation at the delayed Tokyo Olympics will be nearly equal for the first time in Games history
  • Female competitors will make up 49 percent of all athletes.
  • Women did not account for more than 10 percent of all athletes until 1952.

Gender representation at the delayed Tokyo Olympics will be nearly equal for the first time in Games history, with female competitors making up 49 percent of all athletes. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said Tokyo will be “the most gender equal yet.” Women’s participation in Tokyo increased by 4 percent from the 2016 Rio Olympics, where women represented 45 percent of games athletes. In 1900, the first year women were allowed to compete, there were 22 female athletes. 

Women did not account for more than 10 percent of all athletes until 1952, and female competitors were not allowed in every sport until 2012, The New York Times reported

This year’s jump is due in part to the IOC’s addition of events with the direct intention to promote gender equity. IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell told ABC News the committee was “very deliberate” in their work with international sports federations to up women’s representation. 

“We got the overall number of athletes down from Rio to Tokyo, but even in getting the overall number down, we increased the number of women's athletes,” he said.


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Great Britain is making its own history by sending more women than men.

The Games will feature 18 mixed-gender events, including archery, shooting, judo, table tennis, track and field, triathlon, swimming and surfing, and McConnell noted the committee doesn’t think there's anything more equal than to have men and women competing in the same team, on “truly equal footing."

Meanwhile, Sarah Axelson, vice president of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation, told ABC News Olympic coverage is generally a place of visibility for women’s sports. A 2017 report put out by Axelson’s group found gendered coverage of the 2016 games was “relatively equitable.”

“Generally speaking, the coverage of women's sports is very low, and I think the Olympics is often the exception to that,” Axelson said. 


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McConnell told the outlet there will be an intentional focus placed on broadcasts as well, arguing that “it's not just about having the athletes on the field of play, it's also finding the best positions in the schedule to promote those events.”  

“Where it is now versus where it was 10 years ago ... it's just a night and day change,” McConnell said. “And that's because now there are medal opportunities, there are qualification opportunities, there are pathways for the athletes.” 


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Published on Jul 23, 2021