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  • 'Lillehammer Call' For Gender Equality in Sport Is Launched


    (ATR) The first step in an initiative to promote female leadership in sport has been taken in Norway this week.
    Participants in Women in Sport conference in Bergen, Norway (Ministry of Culture)

    A two-day conference on “Women In Sport”, hosted by the country’s Minister of Sport and Culture Linda Hofstad Helleland in Bergen, wrapped up on May 25.

    Helleland and Children and Equality Minister Solveig Horne, in a joint statement following the conference, said “This gathering has presented a unique opportunity to share experiences and strategies. We have identified and discussed challenges and considered recommendations. We have confirmed our joint interest and expressed our commitment.

    "Our goal is to compile a list of recommendations to be presented to the International Olympic Committee in 2017. And we pledge to continue to work relentlessly to promote and include women at all levels within the sporting communities.”

    The IOC invited the Norwegian government to contribute to the efforts, coined the “Lillehammer Call” after the legacy of the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games which were held in February.

    As we mentioned in part one of our look at women in sport, the IOC has made inroads into gender equality on the field of play in recent years. But when it comes to leadership positions in sport, the numbers for women still lag far behind the men.

    Increase of Female EB Members

    The IOC through its Olympic Agenda 2020 is starting to change the status quo.

    Among the 16 IOC Executive Board members, four are women – although Nawal El Moutawakel and Claudia Bokel leave the board next summer – and three women chaired coordination commissions this year: Angela Ruggiero for Lillehammer, El Moutawakel for Rio and Gunilla Lindberg for PyeongChang.

    Nawal El Moutawakel (Getty Images)
    “I remember when I first chaired the evaluation commission,” El Moutawakel says. “I went, ‘Whoa, first woman ever!’ And now it’s becoming something totally normal.”

    She credits former IOC president Jacques Rogge and current president Thomas Bach. “They have been very strong speaking about the women’s position,” El Moutawakel says. “The world is walking on two legs -- the man and the woman. We cannot have only one leg supporting the world. The woman is part of everything, so you cannot exclude her. You see more and more women becoming members of the IOC compared to decades ago when there were very few of us.

    “I’m very optimistic.”

    Helleland says she was encouraged by the reforms introduced in Agenda 2020. “It was great to see that they are not just talking about more women in sport, but they really want to see results,” she says.

    On March 30, Bach announced additional changes to the IOC Commissions for 2016, putting female representation at a record high of more than 33 percent (150 of 449 members). That number marked a 60 percent increase in female members in less than three years and is a direct result of Agenda 2020 reforms. 

    “The new make-up of the Commissions reflects the philosophy initiated by Olympic Agenda 2020 to strengthen the unity in diversity of the Olympic Movement and to encourage more inclusive decision-making,” Bach said.

    The Next Steps

    The Lillehammer Call seeks to go even further.

    Linda Hofstad Helleland, Norway's Minister of Sport and Culture (ATR)
    “To get great female leaders for the future in the IOC, we need to develop the grass roots,” Helleland says.” We need to have a large amount of women to choose from.”

    She emphasizes that participation is a “path to empowerment.”

    “In the sports arena, differences are put aside,” Helleland says. “People from all over the world, with different backgrounds and language, meet and have fun. Sports is the most inclusive and tolerant arena in the world.

    “Still, women are left out at the top level (and) the sport community misses out on relevant competence and new perspectives. We need to change this, not only because it's important for further development of sports. It is also essential for our democracies.”

    Helleland acknowledges that although the Norwegian Confederation of Sports has given more attention to gender equality in recent years, “We have a long way to go.”

    In Norway, 43 per cent of all board members are women, but Helleland says there is room for improvement at the top level where 13 percent of the sports presidents and 20 percent of the secretaries-general are female.

    Norwegian businesswoman Siri Hatlen, the president of the Lillehammer 2016 organizing committee, says Norway implemented a law stating that the boards of listed companies must be composed of at least 40 percent women.

    “When that law was passed, I didn’t really like it,” she says. “Because I always said you should be chosen as equals and it shouldn’t be necessary. It shouldn’t be by law.

    “Looking back, I see it was a necessary push to get it moving.”

    Hatlen, who has chaired several boards, says men have responded positively to the diversity. Female board chairs are also more open to considering female candidates for CEO, she says, but “There’s still a way to go.”

    Women Take Responsibility

    El Moutawakel says that women all over the world have a responsibility to understand they are part of the process and seek out opportunities as sports leaders. “They need to be a strong player,” she says, “and not wait until the opportunity comes to them.”

    Helleland agrees that the challenge involves changing perceptions and encouraging women to vie for the top positions. 

    “Women have to make themselves candidates,” Helleland says. “You cannot go on the street and just grab a woman. You have to look for talented women, and then you have to mentor them. So after a while, you have all these women to choose from. Because they have the competence and the knowledge and they can contribute.”

    She says that from her experience chairing a women’s organization in Norway she knows that “you have to build up stone by stone. You cannot just go at the top. You have to do a lot of work.”

    During the Lillehammer YOG, Helleland was impressed by the female leaders and the young women who were volunteers and athletes.

    “We say, ‘You have to continue to contribute in sports because you are talented,’” she says, “and we that are some years older, we have to pull them up. 

    “That’s why we say this is one of the best initiatives from this Youth Olympic Games, and that’s why we call it the Lillehammer Call.”

    Written by Karen Rosen and Gerard Farek

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