International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach spoke today of the leading role sport can play in advancing gender equality, during a speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 6th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women and Sport in Helsinki, Finland. The Conference, taking place from 12 to 15 June, is officially supported by the IOC and has the motto “Lead the Change, Be the Change”.
Welcomed onto stage by Finnish IOC member Peter Tallberg, who was a fellow member of the IOC’s first Athletes’ Commission in 1981, the President told the audience about the progress that the IOC has made in terms of women’s participation in sport.
“Women have competed at the Games since 1900, but by London 2012 that figure was approaching parity with nearly 45 per cent of competitors being women athletes. Indeed, some of the biggest teams, Team Finland for example, had more women members than men”, he said.
“The London Games also saw another significant landmark with women competing in every sport,” he added.
"Sport has been, and continues to be, a vital tool to show that another world is possible, and that role continues to this day,” President Bach told the audience. “Our central belief written into our Charter is that sport should be available to all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or any other form of discrimination, including sexual orientation. As a sports organisation we cannot force countries to change their legislation but what we can do is give a shining example to the world of how a society based on these core beliefs should operate.”
President Bach praised the progress accomplished over the years in increasing girls’ and women’s participation on the field of play, but urged to increase the efforts of getting more women into decision-making positions:
“We must do more to bring women into sports leadership. We have seen what women can do on the field of play. We need their intellect, energy and creativity in the administration and management of sport as well.”
Also speaking at the Opening Ceremony were the first female head of state in Finland (2000-2012), President Tarja Halonen, who is Patron in Chief and Chair of the Honorary Committee of the 6th IWG World Conference on Women and Sport; Raija Mattila, IWG Co-Chair, International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG); Pia Viitanen, Minister of Culture and Housing, Finland; Peter Tallberg, IOC member and five-time Olympian from Finland; Sir Philip Craven, IOC member and President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC); and Risto Nieminen, President of the Finnish Sports Confederation (Valo).
President Bach also said that while sport can help pushing for and showcasing gender rights in the world, it could not initiate the change on its own. Combatting discrimination and injustice, he said, is always a team effort.
“Sport has proven its value as an effective tool for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. To make real progress in our quest for gender equality and open access to physical activity for girls and women worldwide, we need close collaboration with governments, educational institutions, the private sector and civil society at all levels.”
IOC Executive Board members and Olympians Anita DeFrantz
and Claudia Bokel
are also on the programme to talk about the topics of “Leading the Change in Sports Policy” and “Sport without Fear
Prior to the Opening Ceremony, President Bach held separate meetings with the President of the Republic of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, and with the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou.
The International Olympic Committee is a not-for-profit independent international organisation made up of volunteers, which is committed to building a better world through sport. It redistributes more than 90 per cent of its income to the wider sporting movement, helping athletes and sports organisations at all levels around the world.