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YOU'LL SEE MORE WOMEN'S sports than ever in the 1992 Olympic Games: Judo, boardsailing, racewalking and canoe and kayak whitewater slalom are among the women's events that will debut in Barcelona. Yet the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stands in a paradoxical position: While it is trying to increase women's participation in the Olympics, it is also aiming to pare down the overall Olympic program. For some female athletes, that wait for Olympic status isn't over.
Weightlifter Karin Marshall, modern pentathlete Lori Norwood and water polo player Maureen Mendoza have all won world championships. But next summer, while their male counterparts are chasing Olympic medals, these women will go to Barcelona as spectators. Their sports still await an Olympic status for women. So do ice hockey, wrestling and soccer--all of which now have world championships for women--and the traditionally female sports of softball.
In fact, one third of all Olympic sports are affixed with "male only" stickers, and even sports entered by men and women have fewer events for females.
For an event to make the Olympic program, it must first meet requirements for worldwide participation. Fortunately, the IOC's rule are less stringent for women's sports than for men's (competition in 35 countries on three continents, and 75 countries on four continents, respectively). But the numbers still can be hard to rustle up.
"In Arab countries you don't see many women doing modern pentathlon or ice hockey," says Kathryn Reith, communications director for the Women's Sports Foundation, "and in Third World countries, women are just trying to survive."
Modern pentathlon, on the other hand, does have the numbers but that only qualifies the sport for inclusion. The tought next step is convincing the IOC to vote it Olympic status. And that requires showings in major regional "Olympics" (such as the Pan American Games), patience, timing, politicking--and powerful voices of support.
It doesn't help that women are so poorly represented on the national governing bodies (NGB's) of their sports. US weightlifting, for example, has no women on its board (nor do ice hockey or wrestling), and its women's subcommittee has "no power and no autonomy," according to Marshall.
What should be good news is that the 1978 Amateur Sports Act mandates that NGBs with women's programs must include women's representation on their boards. The bad news is that some NGBs currently have no women members--and with boards such as USA Wrestling giving its members eight-year terms, it could be a long wait.
Mendoza, who joined the US team in 1977, could have bene in four Olympic competitons by now. Says Norwood, who trains with her male counterparts, "It's getting a little old sending the guys off to the Olympics every four years."
To voice your concern, call the US Olympic Committee, (719) 578-4529, or the American Athletics Foundation Library, (213) 230-9696.
Michele Kort is a frequent contributor to WS&F. This column is produced in conjunction with the Women's Sports Foundation.
Kort, Michele. "Carrying a torch: Olympic sports status - not the gold - is the major goal of many female athletes." Women's Sports and Fitness July-Aug. 1991: 68. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Mar. 2010.
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