Still a long way to go for equality, diversity and inclusion in the Olympic movement

Olivia Miller
Olympic Rings floating near Odaiba by Wiki Commons
Olympic Rings floating near Odaiba

On Thursday 18 February it was announced that Japan’s Olympics minister, Seiko Hashimoto, has become Chief of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (TOCOG). This follows Yoshiro Mori’s resignation after making inappropriate sexist comments about the role and value of female members in Japan’s national Olympic body. Dr Geoffery Z. Kohe, a sport management and policy expert at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, has commented on how the sexism incident is ‘a reminder that development of sport toward more progressive, inclusive, democratic, and ethical values is not guaranteed’, and provides recommendations of new strategies that could help bring change in Olympic sport. He said:

‘Yoshiro Mori, who was previously the country’s Prime Minister, faced widespread criticism for his remarks and added to not only the continued criticism of TOCOG’s mishandling of the event, but to sustained rebuke over the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) beleaguered efforts to address its ongoing gender inequality and diversity issues.

‘The IOC were relatively slow to react to the incident, first employing strategic public relations to promote its own investments and policies of gender inclusion and equality. Since then, President Thomas Bach and Executive members have avoided direct condemnation of TOCOG and been quick to lavish praise of Mori for his strong leadership, steadfast commitment to the Olympic movement, and dedication to delivering a successful Olympic Games. The IOC has also poured further praise on TOCOG (and the Japanese Olympic Committee Mori also presided over) for their sudden commitment to gender equality in appointing Mori’s successor. For TOCOG, Hashimoto, a well-respected politician and decorated Olympian, was an obvious and appropriate choice, although there are emerging opinions she will serve as an easy scapegoat should issues persist.

‘Regardless of what transpires for TOCOG, or whether it leads to sustained changes within Japan’s Olympic and sport sector, the incident is a reminder that development of sport toward more progressive, inclusive, democratic, and ethical values is not guaranteed. Nor can it be left to those in the upper echelons on sport to be the change makers. Researchers have continued to advocate for change in many areas of the sport sector with regards to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), but also further in terms of organisational philosophies, practices and cultures that may benefit all constituents. Where there are challenges in implementing reform, new strategies could focus on the following:

  • Greater transparency, accountability and responsibility of the IOC and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) to ensure not only equality of representation (something that many NOCs and national sport governing bodies already do), but equality and empowered experiences within the organisation.
  • The unequivocal assurance of safe work cultures and practices for all employees and members, and the related right to supportive, independent, and fair processes when issues and inappropriate incidents occur. Here, the IOC and NOCs have again made strides supporting professional athletes, but these structures must extend to all sport workers.
  • Continued support and response from state and local governments, international observatory organisations, academics, media and corporate stakeholders to hold the IOC, NOC and its partners to account and to take action against all forms of discrimination, marginalisation, inequality and disempowerment.
  • A meaningful commitment by all those within the Olympic movement and effected communities to ensuring that future iterations of the Games (and all sport mega-events for that matter) ensure that ethics and duties of care are enshrined not only in thought and word, but also in deed. Moreover, that where these duties of care are breached (be they in relation to gender discrimination, political corruption, environmental or social upheaval) voices will be heard and actioned upon.

‘The issues IOC and its member organisations, like TOCOG, face with regards to EDI will not abate any time soon. Nonetheless, as those with an interest in improving sport we need remain committed to critique, empower and forms of action that might transform the sector’s spaces, organisations and practices for the better.’

Dr Geoffrey Z. Kohe is Lecturer in Sport Management & Policy at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. His recent work on the Olympic movement and the professional sport industry has examined sport mega-event legacies, organisational cultures, and sport workers’ experiences. You can find more details of his work here:

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