Sportswriter’s notebook: foreign report card — poor grades for female leadership

notebook2012 London Olympic all-around gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas was unable to defend her title this year in Rio because of a new rule that only allows two gymnasts from a country to advance. Douglas placed third.  If you’re curious about the origin of the two-per-country rule, look no further than the various sport federation leadership, which according to a first-ever report card by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics (TIDES), is “exclusively male.”

TIDES Director Richard Lapchick released last week, just days before the 2016 Summer Games began, the 2016 International Sports Record Card on Women in Leadership Roles. He and his research team examined over 8,500 leadership positions and found, “Women are still severely underrepresented in the most influential positions in international sports.”

This includes making rules, such as the one Douglas got caught in when she barely missed out, and finished third in the preliminaries, denying her an opportunity to try to repeat as gold medal winner. Seeing as her sport is subjective as it is, the new Olympic rule really made no sense, especially since there are three places in Olympic competition to win a medal.

Richard Lapchick
Richard Lapchick MSR file photo

Lapchick’s report called out the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and other foreign governing bodies.

“The IOC’s calls for gender equality across sport have had no teeth,” wrote the author — Lapchick has been publishing Racial and Gender Report Cards on professional and college sport for over 25 years.

This report card “is the most extensive…the first time that grades have been issued” on international sport.

Only 5.7 percent of federation presidents, 12.2 percent of vice presidents and 13 percent of executive committee members are women, noted the report. And even though the USOC “comes closest to showing a commitment to gender equality” with 31 percent of governance roles are women, according to Lapchick that is “less than the percentage of women in professional roles in the league offices of the NBA, MLB, MLS, the WNBA and at the NCAA headquarters.”

Even after Lapchick, who used the data from the IOC, USOC and the international sports federations web sites, did a sport-by-sport breakdown, the number of women leaders generally were in low single figures in most of them. Some, however, did have women presidents (badminton, rowing, rugby, table tennis and volleyball) but these females were mainly at the regional level, not their respective national associations.

Expectedly, TIDES handed out the following grades:

  • D-plus for the IOC
  • F for the international federations
  • F for the regional zone confederations
  • Only the USOC got a passing grade, a B-minus

However, an estimated 45 percent of the Rio Summer Games participants are female, the highest ever. This includes the U.S., where female athletes outnumber their male counterparts, a new Olympic record for the largest number of women by any nation, says Lapchick.

“If the IOC wants to make good on the Olympic 2020 Agenda, they must not ignore the women in society, but rather encourage an environment in which women can be leaders,” states the TIDES director. He said he hopes the first-ever international sport leadership report card “will serve as a call to action for swift change” for women as sport leaders.

“That was the compelling reason to produce this Report Card,” concludes Lapchick.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to