Paris – World Athletics president Sebastian Coe told AFP Monday he wants an organization in which a woman can aspire to the top job and one that retains far more female athletes as coaches and officials.
The governing body of the Olympics’ marquee sport has launched a campaign, #WeGrowAthletics, to coincide with International Women’s Day and build on the efforts taken to promote greater gender equality in track and field.
In an interview, Coe said one of the key thrusts of the campaign was to empower women to pursue leadership positions within athletics — including his own role.
“While male athletes can see a path to become a coach or an official, that was not always the case with women,” he said.
“I’m not sure at this moment any woman can close their eyes and imagine being in the position I’m sitting in. I want that to change.”
In a process that began in 2016, World Athletics has mandated that by 2027, 50% of its 26-strong decision-making council will be women. The figure is currently 30%.
There will also be more symbolic changes — at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon the final event will be the women’s 4x400m relay, rather than the men’s race.
Recalling the situation before 2016, Coe said: “We had parity in play and parity in pay but we didn’t have parity in our platforms. It was bizarre.
“It didn’t make sense that we have so much instinctive parity in our sport and a woman walks out of a world championships with a gold with the same prize money as Usain Bolt and yet when you looked at our governance structures (there was no parity).”
One important development was the election in 2019 of Ximena Restrepo, a former Colombian sprinter, as World Athletics’ first female vice-president.
Coe said the progress towards gender parity “needs to be quantifiable” and he dismissed talk of “tokenism.”
“I am not prepared to listen to people saying: ‘That is tokenism and women will come through.’ The reality of it is, they don’t,” he said, saying you need to “take a sledgehammer” to such opinions.
“It is irrefutable that organizations that are not diverse and lack inclusivity, underperform those that are by 15%.”
The other important issue is that if athletics — facing a fierce battle against other sports to attract and keep new talent — is to expand it needs to “reach out, particularly to younger people so show them we look like the world we live in,” Coe said.
Young people, he said, make more subliminal observations, such as: “What does this organization look like, how does it sound or am I joining something here that is a little monochromatic?”
The issue of gender looms large in the case of South Africa’s Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya. In 2018, World Athletics banned her and other female athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD) from races between 400m and a mile unless they take hormone-suppressing drugs.
Semenya has twice failed to overturn the regulations and has now taken her legal battle to overturn the ban to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the ban.
Supporters of Semenya have criticized World Athletics for its stance.
Coe conceded that the DSD issue was “a profound challenge”, but said it was about “creating the level playing field and being acutely conscious about fairness”.
World Athletics said in a statement: “Throughout this long battle, World Athletics has always maintained that its regulations are lawful and legitimate, and that they represent a reasonable, necessary and proportionate means of ensuring the rights of all female athletes to participate on fair and equal terms.”
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