Two months from now, one of the biggest worldwide sporting events will take place in the Republic of Korea. This will be the first time for the Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea and the first Olympic event planned to be held in the nation in over thirty years since the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics. It is extremely meaningful for the nation. The 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is also expected to be a significant event for female athletes as well.
Surprisingly and at the same time sadly, only 4% of total athletes in the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924 were female. At that time, the only female athletes were figure skaters. In other words, the only event females were allowed to compete in was figure skating. The rule reflected the strong stereotype that, from a medical perspective, women were too weak and unfit to compete in winter sports such as ice hockey and bobsleigh. As the years passed, female athletes were allowed to participate in five events, namely, figure skating (1924), alpine skiing (1936), cross country-skiing (1952), speed skating (1960), and the luge (1964), which were probably considered “less dangerous” for women. Still, female athletes did not stop speaking up for their right to participate. Their desire and passion for various sports kept them fighting for the right to participate and be given equal treatment as athletes, demanding to stop discrimination based on gender. Outcry against discrimination reached its peak in the 1990s, and as a result, females were finally able to compete in ice hockey in 1998 and bobsleigh in 2002, two sports that were typically considered “sports for men”. By 2014, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, female athletes were able to participate in all fourteen competing sports.
For women to receive equal treatment as men in terms of sports participation at the Olympics, it took ninety years. Ninety years is an extremely long time before the world was willing to realize that there is nothing that women are “too weak for” and that no one has the right to decide what is suitable for a particular gender. Ninety-four years have passed since the first Winter Olympic Games, and it is now South Korea’s turn to show the world how much change and improvement has been made in gender equality between athletes. With many changes already set in place, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will open two new events coed curling and alpine skiing. With an increase in the number of events available for female athletes, this year’s winter Olympics can become the stage for the biggest number of female athletes to show the world their talent and shout out, “We are strong enough.” Hopefully the world will remember the 2017 Winter Olympics as having the most variety in events in which both males and females participate. Let’s all wish for fair play and fair participation.
“Glass Ceiling is Shattered: Winter Olympics Gender Equality”, PyeongChang 2018, April 15, 2016