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Will Equal Numbers of Male and Female Athletes Ever Compete in the Olympics?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris will make history as the first time equal numbers of male and female athletes are set to compete. With 5,250 male and 5,250 female athletes, the 2024 Games represent a significant step forward in gender parity within sports. This contrasts starkly with the 1924 Paris Olympics, where women made up a mere 5% of the competitors.

The road to gender parity at the Olympics has been long and challenging. During the ancient Games, held as early as 776 BC in Olympia, Greece, the competition was reserved exclusively for male athletes. Some scholars believe women may not have been permitted to attend, even as spectators. Despite being excluded from competing, the first woman to gain fame at the Olympics was Cynisca, a Spartan princess who employed male charioteers to compete with horses she had trained. In 396 BC, her team won the four-horse chariot race.

Women were also excluded from competing in the inaugural modern Olympic Games, held in Athens in 1896. When they made their debut four years later, they initially participated only in select disciplines such as lawn tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian events, and golf.

One of the early trailblazers was Hélène de Pourtalès, an American-born Swiss countess famed for being the first female Olympic gold medalist. Pourtalès was part of the sailing crew that won the 1-2 ton class regatta at the 1900 Olympics in Paris.

Further milestones followed at the Antwerp Games in 1920, the first Olympics to include women in the aquatic events. At age 14, U.S. diver Aileen Riggin won a gold medal in the 3-meter springboard event. At the 1948 Olympics in London, American athlete Alice Coachman won the high jump, making history as the first black woman from any country to take home an Olympic gold medal.

Yet despite these individual triumphs, certain sports remained exclusive to male competitors until the 2012 London Games. That year, women began competing in boxing, heralding the first Summer Olympic Games where women participated in all events. The 2012 London Olympics also saw another historic moment as the U.S. team was the first to include more women than men.

Another notable milestone came at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (held in 2021), when weightlifter Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand became the first openly transgender woman to compete in the Olympic Games.

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Striving for gender parity, on and off the field:

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is trying to amplify the visibility of female athletes by adjusting schedules to ensure balanced representation during prime broadcasting slots and encouraging both male and female flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony.

  • There is still a considerable gender disparity when it comes to coaching at the Olympics. Only 13% of coaches at the 2020 Tokyo Games were women.

  • To help address the coaching imbalance, the IOC has spearheaded the Women in Sport High-Performance Pathway Programme, which will support over 100 women from more than 50 different countries and 17 sports to coach at an elite level.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman , Writer and editor
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.

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Margaret Lipman

Margaret Lipman

Writer and editor

With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
Learn more
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