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Hopefully, What Happens in Paris Will Not Be Just a Memory

“We will always have Paris.” Let’s hope the sentiment behind this quote made famous by Humphrey Bogart as Rick in the movie Casablanca does not hold true for the next 130 years.  In the 1942 movie, Rick says the line to Ilsa – Ingrid Bergman – to mean despite the good times in Paris, they can’t keep the relationship going, but they will always have the memories from there.


In modern times, Paris is the home of the 2024 Summer Olympics, as well as a historical first as the first Games to achieve full gender parity. The event will feature an equal number of male and female athletes with 5,250 athletes of each gender participating. Despite this historical moment, the world has a way to go toward complete gender equity. The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap report 2023 estimates it will take another 131 years to reach full parity in venues throughout the world.


Hence, let’s hope we will NOT be saying, “We will always have Paris,” when it comes to gender equity.


The WEF writes about the milestone that Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which organizes the Games, described as “one of the most important moments in the history of women at the Olympic Games, and in sports overall.” It is the result of sustained efforts by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its partners to promote gender equality in sports​ (Olympics)​​ (InsideTheGames)​.


For a little history, women competed in the Olympics Games for the first time in 1900. These games also happened to be in Paris. At that time women represented 2.2% of all participants.


Most competed in sports considered suitably “feminine,” like golf or tennis, according to the Olympics news site Around the Rings. Women were banned from competing in long, athletic events after the Amsterdam 1928 Olympics because of “physical weakness”. But female athlete numbers grew steadily and accelerated from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when women represented 23% of Olympic participants.


By the London 2012 Olympics, 44% of the athletes were women. London 2012 was described as "The Women’s Games" because it was the first time in the Olympics that every country taking part had women athletes in their teams.


Progress Across a Lifetime


I was three years old when Title IX was enacted as part of the Education Amendment of 1972, which is most commonly known for is impact on gender equity in sports, even though it extends far beyond athletics. Title IX states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." This comprehensive mandate has significantly advanced gender equity, ensuring that educational opportunities are equally accessible to all, regardless of gender.


Historical Context (from Chat GPT)

Prior to the enactment of Title IX, gender discrimination in educational institutions was pervasive. Women faced significant barriers in accessing higher education, scholarships, and athletic opportunities. The passage of Title IX was a crucial step towards dismantling these barriers, propelled by the broader women's rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Advocates for gender equity recognized that educational equality was fundamental to achieving broader societal equality.


As I refer to in the book, I remember my mom telling me that she wanted to play volleyball in high school, but the school only had funding to buy new basketballs for the boy's team. As a teenager in the 1980’s, I could not comprehend that concept; now, however, with the wisdom that change takes time, I look back and see progress.


It has not been without struggles. Despite Title IX, discrimination continued and still does in some cases. One of my friends, a talented, scholarship worthy basketball player, shared a story of no women’s locker rooms at a tournament. (To be fair, with my youngest child, the boy’s dressing room at dance competitions is typically relegated to bathroom or janitor closet.)

In the 8th grade, I saw it first-hand when parents did not pass a tax referendum and the school threatened to remove sports. When the tax bill failed, the kept boy's football and basketball and the administration kept cheerleading for girls. I have nothing against cheerleading; in todays’ standards it takes tumbling skills and other agility, and it is a small team. Is that fair and equitable?


Gender Equity has Lasting Impacts for Men and Women.


Hare a few reasons to think about today:


1.     Equality and Fairness: Ensuring equal representation of genders promotes the values of equality and fairness in sports. The Olympics is a global event watched by millions, and showcasing gender equality sets a standard for other sports and institutions to follow.


2.     Inspiration and Role Models: Balanced gender representation provides diverse role models for young athletes of all genders. Seeing athletes of their gender succeed on such a prominent stage can inspire young people to pursue their sports dreams and break down societal barriers.


3.     Visibility and Recognition: Women's sports historically have received less media coverage and investment compared to men's sports. Equal representation helps to increase the visibility and recognition of female athletes and their achievements, contributing to a more balanced view of sports.


4.     Encouraging Participation: When there is equal representation, it encourages participation from all genders. This can lead to increased participation in sports at grassroots levels, promoting physical fitness and healthy lifestyles among wider populations.


5.     Challenging Stereotypes: Gender representation in the Olympics helps challenge and break down stereotypes about what men and women can achieve in sports. It promotes the idea that talent and hard work, rather than gender, determine success in athletics.


6.     Promoting Social Change: Sports can be a powerful catalyst for social change. By promoting gender equality in the Olympics, the event can influence broader societal attitudes and contribute to gender equality in other areas of life, such as the workplace and education.


7.     Reflecting Modern Values: The Olympics aims to reflect the values of the modern world, where gender equality is increasingly recognized as crucial. Ensuring equal gender representation aligns the Olympics with contemporary values and the global movement towards gender equality.


8.     Economic Impact: Equal representation can have positive economic impacts. Sponsorship and media deals are more attractive when the event appeals to a broader audience, which includes fans of female athletes and women's sports. This can lead to increased revenue and investment in sports across the board.


9.     Compliance with Policies: Many sports organizations and governing bodies have policies promoting gender equality. Ensuring equal representation in the Olympics is in line with these policies and helps maintain the credibility and integrity of the Olympic movement.


10.  Legacy and Future Impact: The representation in the Olympics sets a precedent for future events and generations. Ensuring gender equality in the 2024 Olympics helps to establish a legacy of fairness and inclusion that future Olympics and other sports events can build upon.


One Moment in Time Is a Moment for All


For some athletes, the moment in time is the thrill of victory competing again the fastest sprinters in the world, while for others it is hours of grueling physical activity that can lead to the metal podium, defeat or even injury. In 1988, the song “One Moment in Time” by Whitney Houston became the official theme song for the Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea. The profound lyrics became associated with the Olympics, and iconic for celebrating the achievement of athletes:


Each day I live…I want to be…A day to give…The best of me…I'm only one…But not alone…My finest day is yet unknown.


I broke my heart…Fought every gain…To taste the sweet…I face the pain…I rise and fall…Yet through it all..This much remains.


I want one moment in time - When I'm more than I thought I could be - When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away - And the answers are all up to me.  Give me one moment in time…When I'm racing with destiny…Then in that one moment of time…I will feel…I will feel eternity.


This powerful song celebrates men and women everyone, working to be the best they can be, not inhibited by stereotypes, but celebrated for the unique genius and physical prowess that allows all to achieve. As a mom of two daughters and two sons, I want this opportunity for all, not just half the population.


While Paris is a beautiful city and will be the temporary home of many athletes across the world this summer 2024, let’s hope they don’t leave, saying we “We will always have Paris.” Instead, let’s change the narrative and say look at Paris that represents a 120+ year journey to get equal representation. If we can do it here, among some of the most trained and talented athletes in the world, we can do it in other venues too.


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