Within ISAF, recent debate has focused on women in the committees and decision making structures of ISAF. As we know, this is just one part of the sports mix in which women are involved. The IOC Women in Sport Conference certainly reminded us of the diverse and crucial role women play in sport, but also highlighted the numerous barriers women face based on gender discrimination.
The IOC President opened the session by highlighting the role women play in introducing their children to sport and supporting their ongoing involvement - a vital recruitment process from youth upwards. "Sport needs women's participation, not only because they represent half of humanity, but also because they are key in transmitting the love of sport to our youth. It is the mothers who determine their children's love to sport and we have to bring them back to sport. This is why all of us, we have to continue to give our utmost to promote and defend the cause of women in sport."
Linked to the crucial role women play in sport, is the evident decrease by youth in team sports, the decrease in sports in schools and the reduction in curriculum time for physical education. All organizations have a role to play in reversing this trend.
Anita de FRANTZ, Chair of the IOC Women in Sport Commission, followed the IOC President's opening remarks by highlighting: "For the future of sport and its success in living up to its fundamental principles, we need more people to be involved in providing sport opportunities. And women remain the great untapped resource."
The theme of the conference was "Sport as a vehicle for social change". The ability of sport to enable us all to aspire to reach our goals, its role in removing barriers and enabling social interaction were widely discussed. The impact of sport on education, social inclusion, the vulnerable, empowering those with disabilities and giving a voice to youth was summed up by sports' ability to:
• support sustainable development: we can recognize that sport is a significant force in economic and social development and in environmental protection.
• improve the well-being of children: we can encourage governments, development agencies, and communities to think about how sport can be included more systematically in plans to help children, particularly those living in the midst of poverty, disease, and conflict.
• strengthen education: we can use the appeal of sport to increase school attendance and achievement, and to promote inclusion in education, especially of girls, refugees and persons with disabilities.
• improve health: we can recognize that sport and physical activity are the most sustainable and cost-effective way to tackle non-communicable diseases
• combat aids and advance other important causes: we can recognize the value of sport as a highly effective communications tool, and of athletes as powerful spokespersons.
• promote unity: we can make sport a common framework for peace-building and development efforts.
• promote volunteerism: we can remove impediments to volunteerism for all in the realm of sports, and we can recognize that sport is a crucial entry point to a life of volunteerism.
Reflecting on attaining the targets for women's representation in the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympic Committees (NOC's) and International Federations (IF's), the IOC acknowledged that progress had been slow in meeting the previously set targets, but re-iterated its belief that in order for the targets to be achieved, more intervention work was needed across the world. Interestingly, the IOC is considering introducing an enforceable requirement for NOCs to meet the IOC requirements for gender representation.
What also came across was that women may have a tendency to underestimate their own capacity and capability. It was also recognized that whilst men and women may be themselves unable to take on a specific role within a sports organization, they can still support others by identifying suitable candidates to fill positions and support that candidate. The need for women and men to develop the concept of having 'protégées' was also emphasized.
The audience was varied, ranging from NOC and IF representatives, to regional governments, national and regional sports federations and organizations and women's sports organizations from around the world. Therefore the topics whilst of interest to all may be only able to be taken forward by specific types of organizations.
The sessions were wide ranging, and I would specifically highlight some of the following issues discussed:
• clothing to enable athletes with religious/cultural requirements to participate
• targeting a larger female participation and the "soft" legacy of sports events
• Role models in sport
• Sponsors and women
• Women's sports in the media and women as journalists
• Benefits of remaining in sport after your athletic career
• Sport as a training ground for leadership
• Equality of access to sports at community level
• NOC programmes to retain female athletes
• Reaching today's youth through sport
• The role of mothers in supporting sport as an educational tool
• The balance between the needs of body and practice of sports - the female athlete triad Sexual harassment and Abuse in sport
• Overcoming cultural barriers in sport
The unanimous conclusion of the Conference from the delegates was a commitment to a future strategy which focuses on actions in five specific areas:
• Seize upcoming opportunities to promote gender equality
• Empowerment through Education and Development
• Women, Sport and the Media
• Women, Sport and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
These are outlined in the concluding Dead Sea Plan of Action - http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1299.pdf
In closing the conference, Anita de Frantz specifically raised the issue of supporting athletes who are also mothers. She profiled Barbara KENDALL as a female athlete who has combined motherhood with an elite sports career. Aside from this reference, the need to provide support to athletes who are mothers was not really addressed during the Conference. There are many elite sailors who are mothers and I feel within sailing we should all give further consideration to the support which could be offered.
The Conference certainly identified new and reinforced existing areas where ISAF and Member National Authorities (MNAs) are focusing on women in sailing. However, there is more ISAF and MNAs can do to actively advocate for women, whether athletes, coaches, officials and administrators - to provide support networks and information/resources to grow their involvement in the sport and ISAF. I will address these further with the ISAF Women's Forum.
Chairman, ISAF Women's Forum
Related News story - http://www.sailing.org/22443.php
IOC Women and Sport Commission - http://www.olympic.org/uk/organisation/commissions/women/index_uk.asp
4th IOC Women in Sport Conference - http://www.olympic.org/uk/organisation/missions/women/full_story_uk.asp?id=2514
ISAF Women's Sailing Microsite - www.sailing.org/women