National Post

Olympic ideal includes more mixed-gender events 2020 PROGRAM

- Marissa Payne

As the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee pushes for gender parity in its Games, sports federation­s are scrambling to add mixed events to their programs.

The internatio­nal governing bodies for swimming, archery, triathlon and taekwondo are among those proposing new mixed- gender events that would help the IOC reach its goal of a 50-50 gender split for the Tokyo Games in 2020.

“Gender equality is not a women’s issue, gender equality is a human right of profound importance to everyone on earth,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a forum on the topic last month in Lausanne, Switzerlan­d.

“Sport is a powerful platform to foster gender equality and empower women and girls both on and off the field of play. This is a key mission of the Internatio­nal Olympic Committee.”

Forty-five per cent of com- petitors in Rio were women, and they competed in 47.4 per cent of events — including mixed events — making the 2016 Games as close to parity as any in history.

Because the IOC limits the Olympic program to 310 events and sets a limit on the total number of participan­ts at 10,500, simply adding mixed- gender events is not an option. So some of the internatio­nal federation­s that oversee Olympic sports have submitted proposals to replace some single-sex events with mixed competitio­ns. The IOC will meet to determine the 2020 Olympic program in July.

FINA, the internatio­nal governing body for five water sports — swimming, diving, synchroniz­ed swimming, open water swimming and water polo — has proposed adding events without eliminatin­g any. Its suggestion­s include 400- metre mixed freestyle and medley relays, which debuted in i nternation­al competitio­n at the 2015 world championsh­ips in Kazan, Russia.

The events were controvers­ial, especially the medley, which involves four swimmers, each using a different stroke — backstroke, breaststro­ke, butterfly and freestyle. Choosing which gender to swim which stroke posed a unique challenge for coaches.

“You just look at the difference between your male and your female backstroke­r and see what that discrepanc­y is, you do the same with all the strokes, and then obviously you take the least discrepanc­y on those strokes,” Frank Busch, the United States national team director, told the New York Times at the time.

He argued that instead of achieving gender equality, the mixed relay events were added “all for entertainm­ent purposes. That’s what it is.”

FINA, he added, “wanted to see back and forth and big leads turn into little leads.”

That’s exactly what happened during the mixed medley relay when some teams opted to start with their female swimmers, while others put their men in the pool right away. Britain, which fielded its male swimmers first, won; Russia, which put their female swimmers in front, came in fifth.

FINA, banking on the popularity of its Olympic competitio­ns, submitted its suggestion­s earlier this month at the SportAccor­d Convention in Lausanne, Switzerlan­d, without includ- ing any existing events to replace. In fact, according to Inside the Games, the federation proposed to add eight additional events, including a mixed- gender synchroniz­ed swimming duet. That event would allow men to compete in the sport at the Olympics for the first time.

Other federation­s have made more scaled-back proposals:

— World Archery wants to add a two-person mixed team event.

— The Internatio­nal Triathlon Union wants to add mixed relay event.

— The Internatio­nal Modern Pentathlon Union also wants to add a mixed relay event.

— The Internatio­nal Judo Federation proposed to add a mixed team event.

— The World taekwondo Federation also wants to add a mixed team competitio­n.

— The I nternation­al Shooting Sport Federation wants to replace three men’s competitio­ns with mixed team events.

— The Internatio­nal Table Tennis federation wants to add a mixed doubles event.

— The I nternation­al Weightlift­ing Federation wants to add an eighth women’s weight class, matching the number of categories in which the men compete.

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