Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 44
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Gender diversity lacking in international groups

With memories of the Rio Olympic Games still fresh in the collective sports memory, I would like one aspect of international sports — the role of women in leadership roles — to remain at the forefront of conversation and action.

The 2016 International Sports Report Card on Women in Leadership Roles, published by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, is a terrible indictment of the male-dominated leadership in international sports. As the co-author of the report, I wrote it with the intent to be a call to action to change the way we conduct international sports to be more inclusive of women in positions of leadership.

The International Olympic Committee’s calls for gender equality across sports have had no teeth. The international federations must improve the percentage of female representation. As examples of the marginalized role of women consider these completely unacceptable and outrageous results: Only 5.7 percent of international federation presidents, 12.2 percent of vice presidents, and 13.1 percent of executive committee members are women. The federations earned an F for gender representation among leaders.

In the IOC itself, only 24.4 percent of members are women. While this is higher than the international federations, the IOC must set a higher standard for them to follow. The IOC earned a D+. It was encouraging that Angela Ruggiero was just elected to head the IOC’s Athletes Commission and became a member of the IOC Executive Board. She joined Anita DeFrantz as the second American woman on the board.

The U.S. Olympic Committee comes closest to showing a commitment to gender equality with women representing 31.0 percent of governance roles. That earned the USOC a B-. Still not good enough.

The worst representation of women, however, is with the regional zone confederations and national member federations affiliated to the international federations. Of the total 113 presidents of regional zone confederations, only 10.6 percent were women, earning an F. TIDES also issued a grade of F for the individual national federations, where only 9 percent of the leaders were women.

These figures cover more than 8,500 people included in the report card. As readers of SportsBusiness Journal might know, I have been writing racial and gender report cards on Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, college sports and the NBA, NFL and WNBA for more than 25 years. In all that time, we have issued more than 100 report cards. We had never issued a single F as an overall grade for any sports category until now. After no F’s in 100 reports in 25 years, we issued four in this report card alone.

The new report card represents an indictment of the men leading those organizations, which in 2016 are not diverse, far from inclusive and too many seem overly sexist.

So what does it all mean in the arenas and on the playing fields? We used to call diversity a moral imperative, and it is. But it is also a business imperative. In response to our report card, DeFrantz observed that, “Good governance demands that women and men share the responsibility of decision-making at board levels. International sports governance is far behind the standard.”

Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman added, “… more women’s voices (and votes) would enrich dialogue, improve decision-making and ensure that sports remain in step with the times.”

While women were well-represented in the Games with record numbers and every nation having women on their team for the second consecutive Summer Olympics, many of the women in Rio, especially those coming from resource-poor nations, had to overcome great adversity to reach that level. With men governing their national federations, women and girls often get disproportionately less funding, worse practice conditions and often poorer coaching and training. Imagine the vast majority of girls who don’t get past the local levels of competition because of these hindrances.

Even at the very top level in a sport like women’s soccer, FIFA, another bastion of men without wisdom (but with a clear proclivity toward greed and corruption), ruled that in the last round of World Cup competitions the men would play on grass while the women had to keep playing on artificial turf where injuries are more likely. That’s just one example, but if this can happen in the international federations in such an elite sport, imagine the choices of a national federation without women’s voices in less popular sports.

Billie Jean King noted that, “Our international and national federations need to bring more women in leadership roles and bring about transformational change in the way we manage and lead in sports.”

This year, women athletes not only outnumbered male athletes on Team USA, but they set an Olympic record as the largest number of women participating for any nation. While this shows great progress, it is imperative that international sports bodies also make progress with representation of women in decision-making roles. Such a change would fuel even faster growth of female participation, as well as ensure equal resources and treatment of female athletes.

Richard E. Lapchick (rlapchick@ucf.edu) is the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. He is also chair of UCF’s DeVos Sport Business Management Program. His co-authors on the international sports report card were Erin Davison, Caryn Grant and Rodrigo Quirarte. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick.