Olympics 2020 set to break new record - gender equality

By Matthew Lavietes, Thomson Reuters Foundation

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, March 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics is on track for a new record - having an almost equal number of female and male athletes for the first time, the International Committee (IOC) announced on Tuesday.

The percentage of female athletes competing at the Olympics in Japan in July is expected to rise to nearly 49% - from 34% in 1996, according to a statement from the IOC.

The IOC said it is committed to reaching full gender parity for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

"It has been more of a marathon than a sprint, but female Olympians are at last catching their male counterparts in the numbers game," the IOC said in a statement.

The announcement is part of the international sports organization's greater push for women's rights.

This month the IOC announced that it will have full gender representation across all 206 teams and change its rules to allow one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony.

It has also taken a leadership role in the U.N. Women's Sports For Generation Equality Initiative, which aims to advance gender equality in and through sports.

Women's advocacy groups applauded the IOC move.

"When it comes to equity and inclusion in sports, the world has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," the Women's Sports Foundation, a nonprofit focused on female involvement in sports, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The IOC's announcement is warranted and encouraging; it signals great progress toward the ultimate goal of full equality in the Olympic Games, which continues to be a long journey."

But news of gender equality milestones were marred by growing concerns over whether the Tokyo Olympics will be cancelled as world health officials advise against large gatherings in order to contain the coronavirus.

Japan has more than 1,000 cases of the virus, resulting in 16 deaths as of Tuesday. Globally there are more than 100,000 confirmed cases and 3,600 deaths.

Olympic organizers dismissed speculation that the Tokyo Summer Games could be canceled at a briefing last week.

However, the torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece, will be held without spectators after organizers on Monday introduced tighter measures to protect against the virus. (Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)