|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by United Nations Office for Partnerships
on Women’s Empowerment through Sport
The International Olympic Committee’s new Permanent Observer status at the United Nations would enable it to promote sport as a right for all people, rather than a privilege, and help it empower women, Anita L. DeFrantz, Chair of the world sports body, said at a Headquarters press conference today.
“The IOC is delighted to become a Permanent Observer, and a part of ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], because we share the common goal of achieving equality for women,” said Ms. LeFrantz, who was accompanied by Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships. “To be here and meet the representatives and to be able to communicate with them about the importance of sport is a wonderful opportunity. We believe sport is a birthright and anyone who wishes to have access to sport should have that access.”
Introducing Ms. LeFrantz, Mr. Dossal said that a number of prominent athletes and other celebrities had been present at a breakfast celebrating the International Olympic Committee’s new status within the United Nations. They included gold medallist swimmer Dara Torres and Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis. “Ms. Davis herself made the Olympic qualifying trials for archery and has done a lot for empowering women, especially in media,” he added.
“Sport can be used as a tool for bringing people together in peace, as is done at the Olympics,” Ms. LeFrantz said. “They leave that place in peace, with friends from somewhere where they might technically be at war with. For children to grow up believing they can become an Olympian is a powerful thing.”
She went on to say that the International Olympic Committee had a number of projects addressing women’s empowerment and the third Millennium Development Goal at the grass-roots level. Conferences and seminars had now moved from the regional to the continental level, where people could come together and share the information, ideas, disappointments and strategies they were using to ensure that women were in decision-making positions within sport.
Ms. LeFrantz said that every four years, the Committee held a conference on women in sport, the most recent of which had attracted more than 600 people from 116 countries. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, only 23 per cent of the athletes had been women, she said, noting, that in 2008, however, 43 per cent of participants in the Beijing Games had been women. The focus now was to make similar increases in the decision-making arena. “Sports belong to us all,” she stressed. “If we are going to grow and provide opportunities, we will need more people. And in women, we have that wonderful resource available.”
When asked about Government involvement in the regulation of sport, she replied that the United States was the only country that seemed to prefer to leave it to the private sector, whereas most other countries had some governmental responsibility.
She went on to say that women in sport were not supported enough in some countries. “During the time of the Olympic Games, media seem to be able to report women’s and men’s sport on an equal basis,” she said. “We hope it is because the IOC presents the games on an equal basis. During those weeks you’ll find the best reporting on women’s and men’s sports. If they can do it then, they can do it throughout the years in between.”
Asked where the International Olympic Committee stood on ambiguous gender issues, Ms. LeFrantz said gender verification had been started in the 1960s to ensure that women were only competing against other women. The International Olympic Committee would never disclose when a test was ambiguous, and would “never allow an athlete to be treated the way that woman was treated in Berlin”, she said in reference to South African athlete Caster Semenya, winner of the 800 metres at the 2009 World Athletics Championships.
In response to a question about how women could be empowered through sport while promoting the Millennium Development Goals, Ms. LeFrantz said that, out of the 205 countries that had Olympic committees, only three — Brunei Darussalam, Qatar and Saudi Arabia — had never sent women. It was the IOC’s hope that partnerships with various United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) could help promote the beneficial aspects of sport for women and girls the world over. “In regions in conflict, it has been shown that, if a child is encouraged to play sport, they will learn to respect their opponents and better understand about living together in harmony,” she said.
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