The International Paralympic Committee: A Winning Model for Addressing Gender Equity in Sport? Michael Pedersen

By iSportconnect | February 27, 2014

Gender equity in sport is a much more critical governance challenge than many sport leaders currently acknowledge. Beyond supporting further societal development, achieving equal gender opportunities is a key component of successful strategies for further developing sport – in and across sports and nations. It is also an important means of building trust, performance and participation and revenue growth.

This 11th contribution of mine for iSportconnect’s expert column on sport governance offers perspectives on the case of the International Paralympic Committee’s gender equity leadership. It also offers some challenging questions about inclusion, diversity and equality as such for sport leaders to consider, as they start the process of modernizing their governance standards for the future.

My 12th contribution is going to be published in the middle of March. It will offer perspectives on the case of the US Open in tennis with a focus on environmental challenges in sport in general and in the context of sport events in particular.

The scope of gender equity in sport is broader than currently acknowledged by many sport leaders

To properly consider and address material risks and opportunities, it is important to place gender equity in sport in a broader sport governance context than currently done by many sport leaders. A useful starting point is considering gender equity along the lines of the following four dimensions of sport governance:

> Internal governance: Equal gender opportunities for becoming board members and professional staff

> Athletic governance: Equal gender opportunities for professional athletes to perform to their full ability, i.e. equal access to international level training support systems, participation in international sport events, sponsorships for athletes and elite funding

> Event governance: Equal gender opportunities at major sport events, including availability of professional leagues and financial value of prizes. Equal gender opportunities for engaging fans, including equal access as spectators and equal access to broadcasting of men and women sports on TV and other online media. Sport events as a means of promoting gender equality in society as such

> ‘Sport in society’ governance: Equal gender opportunities for participating in amateur sport. Equal gender opportunities for participating in projects that evolve around sport as a vehicle for social change 

The potential impact of achieving gender equity in sport is much bigger than currently acknowledged by many sport leaders

Striving to achieve gender equity in sport is not only the right decision in support of further societal development. It is a decision in support of achieving the highest strategic goal of a sport governing body: To further develop sport.

First of all, striving to achieve equal gender opportunities in sport is a way to respond to alarmingly decreasing participation in sport, across sports and nations. Second, it is a way to tap into a broader talent pool – both as far as the boardroom, professional staff, volunteers and professional athletes are concerned. Third, it is a way to increase the financial value and number of sponsorships as well as revenues through sport events and associated media broadcasting rights. Put differently, striving to achieve equal gender opportunities in sport is a way to build trust, performance and participation and revenue growth.


Gender equity is a strategic choice of the International Paralympic Committee

Compared to its peers, the International Paralympic Committee has come a long way in achieving gender equity in sport. In fact, gender equity has been a strategic choice since the International Paralympic Committee established its ‘Women in Sport’ Committee in 2002. The Committee’s mandate is to advocate and advise on strategies and policies to achieve full inclusion of girls and women at all levels of Paralympic sport and the Paralympic Movement. It is also to identify barriers that restrict participation and to recommend policies and initiatives that increase participation.

Along with specific policies, the vision and mission statement of the International Paralympic Committee clarifies the ways in which it has committed to gender equity. The relevant part of the mission and vision statement states that the International Paralympic Committee is to develop opportunities for female athletes in sport at all levels and in all structures. Besides defining the business case for gender equity, the diversity policy establishes six specific commitments of the International Paralympic Committee:

> Increase the diversity of people working within the Paralympic movement

> Ensure that policies and procedures are reviewed against the diversity policy

> Raise overall awareness of equality and diversity throughout the Paralympic movement

> Equip, develop and support staff to promote and make themselves accountable for meeting the diversity policy commitments

> Become a model case for promoting equality and discouraging discrimination

> Monitor the implementation of the diversity policy and review work practices, including carry out regular consultations with stakeholders

Similarly, the International Paralympic Committee has established a ‘twin track’ approach in its development policy. Accordingly, all development activities must be gender mainstreamed. Also, specific programs are being implemented to specifically foster the empowerment of women.

The International Paralympic Committee exemplifies gender equity leadership in the area of internal governance

In accordance with its policies, the International Paralympic Committee focuses its current gender equity leadership mainly on internal governance and event governance.

As far as internal governance is concerned, it is particularly noteworthy that members of the International Paralympic Committee adopted an unprecedented policy on gender equity at the general assembly in 2003. The policy stated that the International Paralympic Committee, national Paralympic committees, international organizations of sport for the disabled and sport entities belonging to the Paralympic movement should establish a goal for women to hold 30 percent of all offices in their decision making structures by 2009.

Several measures have been put in place to achieve the 30 percent goal. Such measures include regional women leadership empowerment workshops, a ‘Women in Sport Leadership Toolkit’, an award to a person from within the Paralympic movement who has been a positive role model for women, a ‘WoMentoring Programme’ and regular newsletters. The ‘Women in Sport Leadership Toolkit” includes guidance on aspects such as situation analysis and specific activities for individuals and organizations. The ‘WoMentoring Programme’ offers a framework for a formalized mentorship relationship between an emerging female leader from a European national Paralympic committee and a more experienced woman or man, who already reached a leadership level in her or his working area.

So far, quite remarkable results have been achieved. By 2012, the percentage of women in leadership positions in the International Paralympic Committee were as follows:

> 18 percent of positions within the management team of the International Paralympic Committee

> 35 percent of positions within committees of The International Paralympic Committee and 38 percent of positions within councils of the International Paralympic Committee

> 20 percent of positions within the Governing Board of the International Paralympic Committee

Similarly, 16 percent of national Paralympic committees across the world had women in leadership positions by 2012, either as board president or secretary general. In 2010, the percentage was even as high as 23 percent.