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Was it really the ‘Women’s Olympics’?

The London Olympics included 30 more medal events for men where there was no matching event for female athletes. (Photo/Courtesy of Diamond Catcher)

Some hailed it as “The Women’s Olympics,” as the 2012 London Games marked the first time in history that all participating nations allowed women to compete.

But a new study co-authored by a USC postdoctoral fellow shows that male athletes still far outnumbered female athletes at the Olympics last summer.

Of the athletes who competed for medals, 6,068 were men and 4,835 were women, according to a new report co-authored by researchers at USC and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies.

The London Olympics also included 30 more medal events for men where there was no matching event for female athletes, including race-walking, canoe/kayak, rowing, shooting, boxing and wrestling.

In 11 of 26 sports, international rules more severely limited the number of female competitors who were allowed to compete.

In boxing, as many as 250 male boxers were allowed to compete, but the number of female competitors was capped at 36. In water polo, up to 156 men could compete as compared to 104 women. Judo allowed for up to 221 male competitors and 145 female competitors.

“The perceptions of equality that led to London being called ‘the Women’s Olympics’ by some commentators are inaccurate,” said Michele Donnelly, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “The focus is almost always on medal counts and success stories, but it’s important to point out that the experience of men and women athletes is still substantially different. Following the celebration associated with women’s involvement in all sports for the first time at the London 2012 Olympics, it is now time for those sports to more equitably represent men and women competitors.”

The authors credit the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the progress to date, especially in the last 15 years, but they argue that the organization can still do more.

“The IOC is ideally located to be the moral leader in taking these final steps towards gender equality and to persuade the international federations that only gender-equal events will be permitted at the Games,” said Peter Donnelly, director of the Centre for Sport Policy Studies. “We have called on the IOC, as the gatekeepers of the Olympics, to make a final commitment to gender equality at the Games in terms of an equal number of events for men and women, and near equivalence in the number of participants.”

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Was it really the ‘Women’s Olympics’?

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