Pole Vaulter


Down to Brass Tacks - Chauvinism in the Olympics

August 21, 2008
N.J. Lukanovich

Last week, I fufilled my need to gush about women athletes at the Games, and now it's time to get down to brass tacks and facts about the chauvinism in the IOC and the nations that don't want their girls to flex. I usually keep my gushing in check, even blush at other's gushing, but even though the Olympics are not yet the model of equality they should be, the only other time we see women in sports is playing tennis at Wimbledon or swinging at a teeny weeny ball with a long skinny stick on a golf course. Apparently women's participation in these two sports is not too emasculating for men, as these were the only sports women were allowed to compete in at their Olympic debut in l900.

Most of the time it would seem that hockey is the only sport in Canada, and men are the only ones who play it. Those who whine about tax payer's money being "wasted" on amateur athletes (that drop in the bucket?) might pause and think about those of us who want to see something other than men assaulting each other on a rink. These couch potato athletes don't seem to realize that without the Olympics, it's as though women don't exist in sport at all.

But while the Olympics are essential for furthering women in sport, the IOC shouldn't get a free pass to ignore its ideals. The International Olympic Committee has a charter that states: "[...]any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement."

A terrific sentiment, but since the IOC completely ignores the charter in regards to gender discrimination, it has as much substance as jello on a hot day. The IOC has no problem whatsoever allowing nations that bar women from sport to compete at the Games - notably Saudi Arabia.

The IOC is a hotbed of hypocrisy toward women within its own ranks - there was not a single female elected member until l981. Fast forward to 2008 and a mere 16 of the 110 members are women. Loads and loads of national Olympic committees do not include women: at an annual congress in Rio, in 2000, only 8 of 400 delegates from 192 countries were women.

And while the IOC talks a good line about equality, they seem determined to block the inclusion of women's ski-jumping for Vancouver, 2010, and wouldn't allow women's pole-vaulting, weight lifting or hammer throw until 2000, and wrestling until 2004. None of these events even required building new facilities - the constant battle to get women's events added to sports that only men are allowed to pay is exhausting. But bring on the beach volleyball, a whole new sport, and the mandatory bikinis for girls while the boys wear baggy shorts and tanks. Bring on the cheerleaders, for 17 events. Knock women's softball out of the games because men's baseball is being kicked out, due to problems over professional players contracts and controversies about doping. Women softball players have done nothing wrong, and the Olympics is it for them - similar to women's hockey, there are no professional leagues.

The inequities sprawl across the numerous sports included in the games, less noticed in the lower profile sports. Take canoe-kayak, a sport I love, but also a sport that was and still is blatantly sexist in terms of the number of events for men and women. Until 1984, there were only two events for women, the 500 metre K-1 and K-2 (single and tandem kayak). Men, on the other hand, also raced 1000 metres, including a 1000 metre K-4, and had 4 events in canoe, C-1 and C-2 500 metres, and C-1 and C-2 1000 metres. Do the math and it adds up to 9 events for men. Women's K-4 was added in l984, but still for only one distance, and no canoe events. So the tally is now 9 events for men, but only 3 for women. It would appear that a cock and balls are required to manage that extra distance or a canoe.

Here's one for your amusement: when women first competed in trap and skeet shooting, they competed with the men. But once Margaret Murdock won a silver medal in 1968, the IOC was suddenly galvanized into creating separate events for women.

Let's now turn our attention to the IOC's complete and utter disdain for its own charter. Not only do they allow Saudi Arabia to compete in the Games, but there's even a Saudi royal on the IOC. Saudi Arabia has sent 166 men and 0 women to eight Olympic Games since l972. But this statistic is nothing compared to the fact that women are banned, in Saudi Arabia, from participating in sports at all. To help ensure that women stay out of shape, Saudi clerics have issued fatwas banning sports centres for women.

You would think that women in Saudi Arabia have bigger things to worry about, like not being allowed to drive, but some Saudi women are so determined to play sports they are taking the risk of playing soccer and basketball underground. A video opposing the ban on women's sports was posted on You Tube by Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider, just prior to the start of the Beijing Games.

The IOC had no problem banning Iraq from the Games when the Iraqi government replaced the members of their national Olympic committee with those not recognized by the IOC. In the eyes of the IOC, bureaucratic shenanigans are a far greater offense than banning women from sport.

The IOC banned South Africa from the Games in the sixties, even though they would have sent black athletes to the games. South Africa was barred due to its domestic segregation policies - a ban on interracial competition. South Africa did not rejoin the "Olympic family" until l992.

But even without the IOC upholding its charter, things have improved. In Barcelona, l992, there were 35 all male teams, (not all Muslim), down to 26 in Atlanta, l996, 10 in Sydney, 2000, and only 5 all male teams in Athens, 2004, and now Beijing. These countries are all Muslim, but not all Muslim countries are the same. Indonesia has sent a total of 161 men and 68 women to 12 summer Games. A stellar record compared to the United Arab Emirates with 37 men and 0 women, Qatar's 82 men and 0 women, Oman's 33 men and not a woman in sight, Yemen's one woman among 16 men, Pakistan's 321 men (yes, you heard me) and only 4 women, Kuwait's 182 men with one woman tossed in for flavor, Sudan ringing in with 64-2, and finally, Iran sent a team with 385 men and 11 women.

The Olympics are not only a reflection of how far women have progressed, but also reflect the casual attitudes towards women's discrimination. If any male athletes were barred from representing their country, or were banned from playing sports within their country due to race or religion, the outcry would lift the roof off the Beijing water cube, but if it's just women, then come on, what's the big deal? It's not like a man is being persecuted! Oh girls, stop the incessant whining, we men have more important things to do, like go buy porn in the Olympic village and ogle cheerleaders while they sing and dance!

My poster girl of the week is Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva. She captivated the crowds as she broke both her own world record and the Olympic record to set a new high at 5.5 metres. She did it all with rings on her fingers and perfectly manicured fingernails. The woman is a stunning svelte amazon who can fly over the bar with the grace of winged gazelle.

When will we get to see women ski-jumpers flying over the ice and snow? It all depends on the IOC.