Putting Women on More Equal Footing at the Olympics

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“So many people are going to see skateboarding for the first time” at these Games, said Lizzie Armanto, 28, of the United States who will be skating for Finland in Tokyo. “And I think they will be pretty surprised. The girls do a lot of the same tricks as the guys. We fall as hard. We get up as fast. We keep trying more and harder things. It’s going to be so fun to watch, and I think it will teach people a lot about what girls can do.”

Of course, not all athletes and commentators have been delighted by the rise of women’s participation in and profile at these Olympics. Some men’s events were canceled or scaled back to make way for more women, with predictable grumbling and backlash.

“At first, some male athletes showed their frustration at the losses of male events,” said José Perurena López, the president of the International Canoe Federation, which replaced several men’s canoe and kayak events with women’s races after the 2016 Games.

But the men “immediately understood that there was no other alternative,” López said. “I am more than satisfied” with the situation today, he continued. “Women have shown in just four years that they are capable of competing in canoe with the same technical level as men.”

More concerning to some observers, including those affiliated with the Olympics, is the possibility that any beneficial influence on women’s sports could be fleeting or insubstantial.

“Off the field of play, the I.O.C. and the Olympic movement must focus on gender equality within the athletes’ entourage and most specifically on coaches,” said Lydia Nsekera, an I.O.C. member and chair of the organization’s Women in Sport Commission. “On average, over the past 10 years, women only represented 10 percent of the coaches at the Olympic Games. The fact this number has not moved in a decade is alarming and needs to be addressed.”

Harvey, of the Women’s Sports Foundation, said this year did indeed seem different.

“There has been a steady building of interest, coverage and pay for women in sport,” she said. But unless the momentum from these Olympics translates into a surge of money and leadership positions for women in sports, she said, the hype will have been only that.

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