Cheering the Women at Sochi

Cheering the Women at Sochi

When the teams march into Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 for the Opening Ceremonies, the number of women representing their country, as Olympians, will have grown significantly from the first modern Winter Games in Chamonix, France, 90 years ago. At that time there were only two events allowing female athletes – women’s figure skating and mixed pairs.  Fast-forward to the XXII Olympic Winter Games where women compete in 38 events for women and 3 mixed events.  Pretty good when there are 86 gold medals to be won and over 2500 athletes expected to compete.

Amongst the many firsts that occur at Sochi one of my favourites is that female snow jumpers will get to fly at these games.  They were prevented from competing in the 2010 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC); however, won their battle to become a recognized sport.

Becoming an Olympian starts with a dream; however, a lot of hard work occurs before it is a reality. As on many other fronts, women face additional challenges. Men were the only ones allowed to compete at the Ancient Olympic Games and women were not included in the inaugural Modern Olympics in 1896.  Quoting Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the visionary behind the founding of the IOC, women would not compete, as their inclusions would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect.”

Efforts to recognize the work and achievements of female athletes occur not only through training and competition but also around boardroom tables worldwide. Concerted efforts by various delegations led the IOC to change the rules so that any new sport wanting inclusion in the Olympic program requires female and male equivalents.

Own the Podium, a Canadian nonprofit agency, leads the development of Canadian sports to achieve sustainable podium performances at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Their awareness and fund raising efforts contributed to Canada’s success in the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Great surges of national pride in our athletes were evident and I remember cheering with my then 2 year old grandson “Yeah Canada!”

Finances present an even greater challenge for female athletes in the developing world.  Can you imagine being passionate and gifted but unable to follow through? A further deterrent may be a lack of equal rights.  The 2012 Summer Olympics were the first time every participating nation had both male and female representation.  Three Muslim countries, Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia sent female athletes on the urging of the IOC.

On a final note, a lack of media coverage for women’s team sports creates barriers to the popularization of these events. Personally I believe that when Canada’s Women’s Hockey Team is competing, it is some of the best hockey watching available (and I’m not much of a hockey fan.) It will be interesting to see if that historical fact changes with the Sochi games.

It is important that girls are encouraged to do anything and become all they want to be. Teaching and instilling the power of a vision in our daughters, nieces, and other young women in our lives will change the world.  Having goals changes things especially when we get up each day and every day to pursue them as our Olympians have.

“Women must try to do things as men have.  When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” Amelia Earhart

I am grateful that those visionary women and men shaping the Olympic Games did not quit because things did not change quickly.  Due to their efforts, I will be cheering for the Olympians at Sochi; perhaps just a little louder for the women there representing Canada.  An added bonus: there is another 2 year old in my life that we’ll be teaching to pump his arm in the arm and cheer “Yeah Canada!” 

Originally published in my Shaken and Stirred column in The Newsy Neighbour February 2014