by Tracey Savell Reavis
In 1922, Alice Milliat called bullshit when the International Olympic Committee refused to allow women to participate in track and field events, and organized the first-ever Women’s World Games. IOC president Pierre de Coubertin prohibited women from the games, deciding their inclusion would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.” Milliat’s continued advocacy accelerated the integration of women’s events in the Olympic Games. One hundred years later, we’re also celebrating another significant milestone for inclusion in sports–the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
The landmark Title IX law stated that educational institutions, programs, or activities that received federal funds could not discriminate on the basis of gender. And just as with women’s participation in the Olympics, the passing of Title IX has been a major step in reshaping the sports landscape in this country.
Recognizing Title IX is a great time to reflect on the progress made in increasing diversity and inclusion in sport and the significance of establishing a day dedicated to celebrating milestones and pioneers who fight for inclusion, recognize how important representation is, and shine a spotlight on work that still needs to be done to have universal equity in sport and society.
Title IX’s enactment has had an enormous impact on the increased participation of girls and women in sports. Fifty years of access and inclusion has sparked more of the same. We are seeing more inclusion for underrepresented communities across the sports industry, on the playing field, in management and in media. Back in 1972, the National Women’s Law Center reported that less than 35,000 women participated in college sports. Thanks to Title IX, that number has skyrocketed to more than 200,000 as of 2019.
A few other examples would include FIFA announcing for the first time in the tournament’s history that there will be a selection of six elite women’s referees for the 2022 World Cup. Or the Black Girl Hockey Club that R. Renee Hess started in 2018 to encourage interest and inclusion in a sport that historically excluded based on race and gender. And the Asian American & Pacific Islander Athletics Alliance, co-founded by Vicky Chun, the first woman and the first Asian American to hold the position of Athletic Director at Yale University. The organization builds connections within collegiate sports and beyond while empowering those in the AAPI community to thrive. Thanks to these initiatives, highlighting representation, the next generation of athletes can see it to achieve it.
And since women have been competing in the Olympics, they have been anything but ‘uninteresting.’ Last year in Tokyo, the women of Team USA earned 66 out of the 113 total country medals. The 121 athletes who identified as women outnumbered the men on the U.S. 2022 Paralympics team.
But while representation of women, minorities, LGBT+ communities, and individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities is important, salaries, prize money and hiring practices are also issues that need to be addressed. The recent equal pay deal between the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams was headline news because it is a first in our country and a rarity in the world. And finally, increased interest in women’s sports, and some non-traditional events such as para-sports and e-sports means there also needs to be more media attention to diverse athletes. The equity gap is narrowing, but our attention to its closing is still needed. Ensuring equity across all platforms is one of the driving forces behind the creation of Diversity in Sport Day.
Diversity in Sport Day is a global initiative driven by local, grassroots participation to promote diversity and inclusion in sport. On August 28, use #DiversityinSport and post on social media what the day means to you. Organizations can engage local politicians to issue commendations to community trailblazers, and have them mark August 28 as Diversity in Sport Day in their jurisdiction. Promote your support of individuals and organizations whose mission includes increasing awareness and participation in sports and physical activities. Host an event to introduce new sports and activities to youth in order to inspire them to participate. Media outlets can highlight individuals who have broken boundaries or are giving greater opportunities to underserved populations. Federations and governing bodies can ask athletes to share their Diversity in Sport stories.
Title IX is also known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, named for its author, Rep. Patsy Mink. On the 40th anniversary, her daughter Gwendolyn Mink called for everyone to remember her mother’s intention when she wrote that it is time to ‘remove the barriers that prevent advancements for girls and women, minorities and those in underserved communities to participate in sports or pursue career opportunities in the sports industry.’
When it comes to sports, women don’t only have to aspire to ‘be like Mike.’ They can aim higher, and be like Alice Milliat, or Patsy Mink, or any of the numerous women athlete role models who champion diversity, equity and inclusion in sport.