The Long Road for Gender Equality in the Olympics

The Long Road for Gender Equality in the Olympics

Here we examine how female athletes live the Olympics differently than their male counterparts.

Here we examine how female athletes live the Olympics differently than their male counterparts.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been the event of the year. All over the world people are connecting to see the biggest competence between countries, rooting for their delegation. Social media has allowed the public to see a new side of the games, including the daily life of the Olympians. It has been an interesting experience for the spectators, as now the athletes look more approachable and charismatic. But it has also allowed the general public to see one of the biggest struggles of the games: Gender inequality.

It is undeniable that the Olympic Games have tried to integrate women within the sports, going from 0% female participants in 1896 to 48.8% in 2020. In the Tokyo version, women play in 46 different sports, while men do in 45. The exclusively feminine sports are synchronized swimming and rhythm gymnastics. It is a good signal when it comes to equality, but being able to participate has not guaranteed good treatment for female athletes.

The most famous case this year has been the withdrawal of Simone Biles from the gymnastics competence for her mental health. The four-time gold medal winner has been heavily criticized on social media, by people that considered her decision unprofessional. Even big media reporters, like Piers Morgan and Clay Travis, accused Simone of failing her team and her country. It represents the pressure on the athletes, where they are supposed to prioritize their performance over their safety.


But Simone Biles' case adds something bigger: She was constantly abused by her doctor during her time in USA Gymnastic. And her case joins at least 350 other women that have also denounced the bad treatment of Larry Nassar. Even as all athletes endure the pressure, women might have to face abuse, harassment, and gender discrimination. Biles is the only victim who is still participating on the team, which represents pressure on the committee to protect the new members from new abusers. Participating in the Olympic Games meant reliving a traumatic experience of prior years, but her critics decided to ignore the trauma derived from this. It is a pressure for women to behave normally even after enduring heavy mistreatment in the games.

Additionally, other causes of gender inequality come from sportswear. Larry Nassar’s abuse case allowed women athletes to talk about the sports' culture and how it allows abuse and objectification. Comparing the uniforms from the men athletes to the woman’s shows a difference in the body approach. Usually, the female ones show more skin, especially the legs and the torso.

Some teams have decided to change their sportswear, like the german gymnastics team. During the Olympics, they decided to use a unitard that stretched to the ankles, which differs from the usual bikini-cut leotards. Luckily it was accepted within the Olympic Games. But in the national competencies, the female athletes might not be as lucky. For example, during the European tournaments, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined for not using bikini bottoms to play.

Lastly, Nigerian women have been disqualified from their competencies in the Olympics because of elevated levels of testosterone. It is a natural thing, something uncontrollable, but the rules make it impossible for them to participate. So, the lack of a diversity approach is limiting talented women who had all the requirements. Now they have to go under hormonal treatments to classify for the next Olympics, something they alleged is unfair.

Equality is not only achieved by having the same number of athletes. The Olympic Games have advanced a lot, but now there is a need for a focus on preventing discrimination, abuse, sexualization, and other struggles that women face every day.

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