Will the International Olympic Committee Pass the Torch to Women or Let It Burn Out?

By Dryden, Nikki | The International Sports Law Journal, January-April 2012 | Go to article overview

Will the International Olympic Committee Pass the Torch to Women or Let It Burn Out?


Dryden, Nikki, The International Sports Law Journal


1. Introduction

There is a growing global critique of the Olympic Movement that accuses The International Olympic Committee (IOC) of practicing 'amoral universalism' and widening the 'say-do gap' between the idealist human rights language of the Olympic Charter and the reality of the Olympic Movement. (1) This summer will not improve this image as Great Britain plays host to the world's greatest athletes for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. This will be the third time that the Olympic Games come to London, unfortunately for women, little has changed since they last hosted in 1908 and 1948 (2).

At the Olympics this summer men will have the opportunity to win 108 more Olympic medals in London than women. That is 108 more local male sporting heroes; 108 more men with the potential to generate economic benefit from their Olympic glory; and 108 more men than women who will have the public and private support of the IOC.

Men will also still run, swim, and bike further distances and compete in a sporting event, canoeing, that is not open to women. Women will continue to be left behind, as several countries may send men only teams to London, and all of this will happen in Great Britain, a country that generally promotes the rule of law and women's rights, and it will happen with potential impunity from international law under the mandate of IOC. Any attempt to question the British Government about the unequal policies regarding women's participation in the Olympics will be faced with a familiar argument: 'The IOC made me do it,' (3) which was made in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada during the Winter Olympics when a group of fifteen women's ski jumpers attempted unsuccessfully, to enforce their right to participate in the Olympics by relying on Canadian law.

This article will outline the IOC's duties to promote and protect women's human rights in sport, including, non-discrimination of women at the Olympics and in the Olympic Movement. Despite their human rights discourse, the IOC still violates the rights of women athletes around the world, fails to uphold its own Olympic Charter, and through its actions, allows (if not forces) nations to violate international law. The goal of this article is to create a blueprint for real transformation at the IOC to conform to its own rules and international law. The IOC must become a transparent, gender equitable organization with a reality that matches its ideals, supports and promotes international law and the human rights of women in sports. To be truly transformative, it must mandate also the same changes of the Olympic Family as a condition of remaining in the Olympic Movement.

This article will outline the legal mechanisms available to spur change from outside of the IOC, although it is clear that thus far such legal challenges have been largely unsuccessful. But the consequences of inaction for the IOC are grim: It risks its recently acquired United Nations Observer Status, losing corporate sponsor dollars, of further alienating athletes, and at worst, the complete erosion of the Olympic Movement. As Olympic scholar Bruce Kidd states, 'It is time for a new paradigm of Olympism and human rights.' (4)

2. Human Rights and the Olympic Movement

The Olympic Movement encompasses all manner of sports organizations, including the IOC (the self-proclaimed 'supreme authority' of the Movement), International Sports Federations (IFs), National Olympic Committees (NOCs), Organizing Committees of the Olympic Games (OCOGs), national sports organizations (NSOs), and the athletes, coaches, fans, administrators, and officials who participate in these organizations. The Olympic Charter guides the Olympic Movement and all persons in the Movement, whether they know it or not, agree to be bound by it. (5) Thus the IOC holds tremendous power in world sport as all Olympic sports report up the ladder to the supreme authority, the IOC. This means that the IOC in effect, touches every person associated with an Olympic sport from the top Olympic athletes and officials down to volunteer parent coaches of the local soccer club. …

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