How the French put females forward!

by Marlies Dekkers

I love exercise; it keeps me happy, healthy, and –not unimportantly!- makes me look great a skintight Dolce & Gabbana dress. But can you imagine that people used to think playing sports would make women ‘less feminine’? I’m not making that up! At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896, women were not allowed to compete, since that would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect.” Those were the exact words of the president of the Games, baron Pierre de Coubertin.

Luckily, this horrible man didn’t have much to say about who participated during the Olympic Games in Paris, 4 years later, since they were part of the World Exhibition. And so the French allowed 22 women to compete in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism and golf. There were no complaints, no demonstrations. One giant leap for feminism.

We’ve come a long way, babe, since the ancient Games, when women were originally the prizes (!) in the chariot races, but we’re not quite there yet! Sure enough, women accounted for more than 44 per cent of the participants at the 2012 Games in London, compared with 23 per cent at the Games in 1984 in Los Angeles and just over 13 per cent at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. But prior to 2012, three Muslim countries had never before sent a female athlete: Qatar, Brunei, and Saudi Arabia. They only did so after being put under pressure by the Olympic Committee.

I hope one day women’s sports events will get the media-coverage they deserve, and female athletes will get the same kind of sponsoring endorsements as their male counterparts. Till then, I salute those first female daredevils in Paris in 1900, who put on their bloomers to kick some Olympic ass. Ladies, we are forever on your team!

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