(ATR) Despite a speaker lineup loaded with IOC members and federation leaders, two larger-than-life personalities stole the show at the IOC’s Fifth World Conference on Women and Sport.
Geena Davis, who played U.S. president Mackenzie Allen in ABC's "Commander in Chief" for a season, looks convincing in front of an American flag. (ATR)
Long-distance swimmer and author Diana Nyad proved the weekend’s most popular presenter in Los Angeles with actress Geena Davis a close second.
Davis, who won an Academy Award for “The Accidental Tourist” and starred in “Beetlejuice” as Barbara, opened Saturday morning’s sessions with a personal testimony about the power of sport to boost self-esteem.
“I was a tall baby,” she joked, admitting she felt embarrassed of her body for the better half of her life.
Not until she took the role of Dottie in “A League of Their Own” and learned to play baseball did she discover her untapped athletic ability – at age 36.
“Learning to play was about so much more than just gaining a skill and a technical ability. Learning to play affected how I saw myself,” she said.
“Playing sports dramatically improved my self-image and quieted that relentless voice in my brain that told me ‘you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough.’”
Davis eventually sought out roles requiring her to learn horseback riding, fencing, taekwondo, ice skating and pistol shooting before attaching herself to archery during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
After setting her sights on Sydney 2000, she wound up as a semifinalist for Team USA but suggested her dreams to compete at the Games aren’t yet done.
“Now I have to be very careful what I choose to get involved in because eventually I will want to go to the Olympics in it,” she joked.
Diana Nyad ended her speech with a trumpet solo. (ATR)
Davis, who also served as a trustee of the Women’s Sports Foundation for 10 years and funded the largest-ever content analysis on children’s TV programs, then delivered a spate of statistics showing how female characters are one-dimensional, hyper-sexualized or most often completely absent from the picture before turning the microphone over to Nyad.
A record-holding endurance swimmer best known for her ongoing Cuba-to-Florida attempts, Nyad, 62, likewise testified to feeling “proud, tall and empowered” through sport and twice called out the IOC for the pace at which the Olympic program achieved gender balance.
“How long did it take us to persuade the body of Olympic organizers that the marathon doesn’t damage the female genitals?” she asked, reminding audience members that the event debuted there in Los Angeles at the 1984 Olympics.
“For 100 years, women have powerfully and gracefully been flying off mountaintops with the exact same power and grace as the men,” she added about women’s ski jump, given the go-ahead by IOC president Jacques Rogge last year.
“It’s taken them 100 years, and now 2014 in Sochi they will be flying in the Olympic Games at last,” Nyad said to applause from the 800-plus delegates representing 140 countries.
“The Sisterhood of London 2012”
LOCOG chair Sebastian Coe appeared twice in Los Angeles, first during Thursday’s opening ceremony and again Saturday morning to speak about the “sisterhood of London 2012” he now oversees.
Sebastian Coe speaks at the opening ceremony. (ATR)
“I’m proud as chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee that I chair 3,000 people currently in the organizing committee and 50 percent of them are women,” he told the largely female crowd.
“I have as many women in senior positions of influence in my organizing committee as I have men.”
Coe then listed some of the many LOCOG departments headed by women – sport, legal, human resources, strategy and management planning among them – before inviting to the stage communications director Jackie Brock-Doyle to share the statistics behind his claim.
According to Brock-Doyle, a full 60 percent of LOCOG’s comms department is female, HR is also 60 percent, finance is 59 percent, commercial 58 percent and – “greatest of all” – both sport as well as building and infrastructure are 50 percent female.
“Over 1,000 women worked on the Olympic Park and the Olympic Village during the construction phase,” she said, adding that London 2012’s 70,000-strong volunteer work force is currently tracking at 54 percent.
“That is not a nice-to-have,” added Coe. “This is absolutely essential for the proper governance of conduct of an organization.”
Women and Sport … and Peace
"These changes take time," said Prince Feisal. (GFP)
Among the many calls of action coming over the weekend was Generations For Peace founder and chairman Prince Feisal Al Hussein insisting delegates utilize sport’s power to mobilize and unite in the drive for gender equality.
"Using sport, Generations For Peace offers girls and young women – all too often the most vulnerable in communities – a safe, transitional space for individual and collective behavior change,” said the IOC member and National Olympic Committee president.
He then praised the progress made since the 2008 conference in his native Jordan but said there is much more work to be done both in and outside of sport.
“We provide world class free education to leaders of youth, equipping them to use sport as an entry point for conflict transformation and peace building,” added Prince Feisal.
“These changes take time, but we are now beginning to see positive difference in many communities around the world.”
Skirts or Shorts?
Throughout the conference, speakers noted right and left that the 2012 Olympics will for the first time feature both sexes competing in every sport on the program now that women's boxing is joining the fold.
AIBA president C.K. Wu takes the stand. (ATR)
Whether athletes will make their Games debut in skirts or in shorts, a hotbed issue for the International Boxing Association, AIBA president C.K. Wu would not say.
“We never ask women to wear skirts compulsorily,” he clarified Saturday during a panel on “Women, Sport and the Media” featuring Women’s Sports Foundation chair Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley.
After a PowerPoint slide from Fitzgerald-Mosley calling out boxing for its supposed fashion directives, Wu was then invited from his front-row seat to take the stage during a Q&A portion to answer for AIBA.
According to the IOC member from Chinese Taipei, athletes from Poland enjoyed “very easy movement” after designing their own skirts to wear at the 2010 world champs, whereas top Irish boxer Katie Taylor prefers shorts.
Following a joint meeting in Bangkok last month between AIBA’s women’s and technical commissions, Wu said a ruling is expected by month’s end from the decision-making Executive Committee Bureau.
“I can say through this discussion last month I think we tend to go to the decision is optional,” he revealed to a round of applause.
“Men cannot choose optional,” he added with a laugh.
"Gender-Free" for NBC
A consensus seemed to emerge by the time Saturday’s closing ceremony rolled around that women are respected during the two weeks of every Olympic Games but not otherwise.
“If it can work for two weeks, it can work during the rest of the year," said Anita DeFrantz. (ATR)
Molly Solomon, coordinating producer of NBC Olympics, noted with pride during the “Women, Sport and the Media” session that 52 percent of her viewership is female.
“I know women are not marginalized during the Olympics,” she said, insisting that storytelling is her network’s “secret ingredient” that ensures balance among both its coverage and its audience.
“My work is gender-free, and I think that’s the way it should be.”
IOC Women and Sport chair Anita DeFrantz echoed Solomon’s comments Saturday and suggested other Olympic broadcasters already follow NBC’s lead.
“Indeed, throughout the world, the local journals and coverage is at least proportional to the women and men on the team,” she said.
“If it can work for two weeks, it can work during the rest of the year.”
The Los Angeles Declaration
The closing recommendations of the conference are now available on the IOC’s website. Click here
to read the so-called “Los Angeles Declaration” in its entirety.
The conference convened in the shadow of the Staples Center. (ATR)
espnW sits down with “champion for women”
CBS Sports reports on IOC president Jacques Rogge’s appearance at the University of Southern California
on the eve of the conference.
Times of India has more on IOC Women and Sport World Trophy winner Manisha Malhotra
Written in Los Angeles by Matthew Grayson.
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