As the International Olympic Committee pushes for gender parity in its Games, sports federations are scrambling to add mixed events to their programs.
The international governing bodies for swimming, archery, triathlon and taekwondo are among those proposing new mixed-gender events that would help the IOC reach its goal of a 50-50 gender split for the Tokyo Games in 2020.
“Gender equality is not a women’s issue; gender equality is a human right of profound importance to everyone on earth,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a forum on the topic last month in Lausanne, Switzerland. “Sport is a powerful platform to foster gender equality and empower women and girls both on and off the field of play. This is a key mission of the International Olympic Committee.”
Forty-five percent of competitors in Rio were women, and they competed in 47.4 percent of events — including mixed events — making the 2016 Games as close to parity as any in history.
Because the IOC limits the Olympic program to 310 events and sets a limit on the total number of participants at 10,500, simply adding mixed-gender events is not an option. So some of the international federations that oversee Olympic sports have submitted proposals to replace some single-sex events with mixed competitions. The IOC will meet to determine the 2020 Olympic program in July.
FINA, the international governing body for five water sports — swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, open water swimming and water polo — has proposed adding events without eliminating any. Its suggestions include 400-meter mixed freestyle and medley relays, which debuted in international competition at the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia.
The events were controversial, especially the medley, which involves four swimmers, each using a different stroke — backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle. Choosing which gender to swim which stroke posed a unique challenge for coaches.
“You just look at the difference between your male and your female backstroker and see what that discrepancy is, you do the same with all the strokes, and then obviously you take the least discrepancy on those strokes,” Frank Busch, the United States national team director, told the New York Times at the time.
He argued that instead of achieving gender equality, the mixed relay events were added “all for entertainment purposes. … That’s what it is.”
FINA, he added, “wanted to see back and forth and big leads turn into little leads.”
That’s exactly what happened during the mixed medley relay when some teams opted to start with their female swimmers, while others put their men in the pool right away. Britain, which fielded its male swimmers first, won; Russia, which put their female swimmers in front, came in fifth.
FINA, banking on the popularity of its Olympic competitions, submitted its suggestions earlier this month at the SportAccord Convention in Lausanne, Switzerland, without including any existing events to replace. In fact, according to Inside the Games, the federation proposed to add eight additional events, including a mixed-gender synchronized swimming duet. That event would allow men to compete in the sport at the Olympics for the first time.
Other federations have made more scaled-back proposals:
- World Archery wants to add a two-person mixed team event.
- The International Triathlon Union wants to add mixed relay event.
- The International Modern Pentathlon Union also wants to add a mixed relay event.
- The International Judo Federation proposed to add a mixed team event.
- The World Taekwondo Federation also wants to add a mixed team competition.
- The International Shooting Sport Federation wants to replace three men’s competitions with mixed team events.
- The International Table Tennis federation wants to add a mixed doubles event.
- The International Weightlifting Federation wants to add an eighth women’s weight class, matching the number of categories in which the men compete.
The IOC told The Post it has not yet decided which events it is more likely to add, although judging by its past actions and the goals of its own Olympic Agenda 2020, one or more mixed events will likely be added to the 2020 program.
The IOC added three mixed-gender events to the past two Olympics, including a mixed sailing event in Rio, and a mixed luge relay and a biathlon event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. A mixed doubles curling event is also slated to premier at next year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.