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Sport has rapidly progressed in the social and environmental sustainability ranks through the decade, yet the battle continues. Unequal gender pay for the same sporting competitions, excessive plastic and paper wastage at sports events - you know the deal.

UK Women's swimming team at Stockholm 1912 Olympics. Credit: US Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

The Olympics' place in equality and diversity

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are celebrating a 50/50 gender split. Yet, in the origins of the competition in Ancient Greece, only single women were allowed to view the games - and even that was discouraged. Sports have come a long way since Ancient Greece, but has it come far enough?

When the Olympic Games became modernised, the first official games held in 1896 excluded women on the grounds of inappropriateness. The 1900 installment allowed women for the first time, with an eyebrow raising 12 female competitors out of the 1066 total permitted to play tennis or golf only. Almost a century later, in 1992, women's games still failed to meet half the number of mens’. Boston Marathon excluded women from its races until 1972, a mere five years after a female runner entered the race under a pseudonym and was attemptedly pulled off the course by an outraged male spectator.

Black and white photo of a male rugby team. Credit shutterstock

The ideology behind the 'sportsman'

The focus on sport and strength having a male focus came from a late 19th century push to eradicate growing sensitivity amongst men, with compulsory sport weaved into educational programmes worldwide to counter a growing bohemian culture under the warning signs of potential war and conflict. Sportsmen became symbols of strength and national pride comparable to military warriors, leading a form of celebrity which their female counterparts were unable to replicate. The sculpting of a sportsperson’s image has traditionally been masculine, as female competitors have long had to prove their heterosexual feminity and sportsmen often don’t disclose their sexuality until they are advanced enough in their career to ensure stability.

Even Wimbledon didn’t offer equal prize money for the same game wins between its male and female players until 2007.

The question of race

The issue of equality in sport spans across a plethora of social issues. The Olympics are a key reference point when looking at equality and diversity in sport. The games had long been accused of white bias. Accessing sports equipment and training was seen as a white privilege, especially when compared to people of different racial backgrounds, people who were segregated and often in lower socio-economic classes. But it wasn't just a question of access that kept people of colour away from sports and the Olympics; there were rules set that banned them from courts due to their skin. But in 1964, the games took a stand against racism by banning South Africa due to its apartheid policies which banned white and mixed race athletes from competing against each other. The South African ban stood in place until 1992 when they were invited back to the Olympics as a sign of inclusivity.

Sign on pool gate with text 'whites only'. Credit mondoweiss

On the other side of equality, swimming was a white elitist sport as people of colour were banned from public swimming pools for most of the nineteenth century, particularly in America. A group was even turned away from a public swimming pool on the basis of race as recently as 2009. There was an outcry of deep rooted racial bias following the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to honour the 1972 Munich Olympic Games victims of a terror attack bombing which killed 11 Israeli competitors.

The birth of the Paralympics

Dr Guttmann looking slightly off camera. Credit welcome images

Disability in sport didn’t exist to a significant degree until Dr Ludwig Guttmann created a competition for war veterans with spinal injuries in 1948. Guttman led a Spinal Injuries Centre in England which was known for its progressive rehabilitation programmes, including introducing competition and sportsmanship back into patients’ lives. The debut games - named the Stoke Mandeville Games, after the hospital facility they were in - were timed to coincide with the 1948 London Olympic Games to encourage morale and competitive spirit. Holland recognised Guttman’s successful rehabilitation work for the veterans and joined the games in 1952, and the movement became what we now recognise as the Paralympics. The Olympic based format of the competition and official recognition as part of the games didn’t occur until Rome 1960 when 400 athletes competed, and was dubbed with the official Paralympics title in Tokyo 1964.

The sports series continues in 2020

This is a mere scratch on the surface of sports journey in diversity and equality. We’ll be releasing further research articles and our anticipated sports white paper in the following months as we continue to celebrate sport for good.

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