Female participation in the only sex-integrated summer Olympic sport

Lucy Dumbell, Donna de Haan

    Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


    For the first time, every participating nation sent at least one female athlete to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. At the Rio Olympics in 2016, 47% of the medal opportunities were open to women; in total 45% of all athletes were female and some nations, such as the USA, sent more female than male athletes. The policy changes implemented by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are examples of a liberal feminist approach, requiring sports to offer females opportunities to compete. To consider whether a sex-integrated sport can support women to compete as equals. Equestrian sport at the Olympics has a long history and since 1964 has been sex-integrated within all disciplines. Within a sex-integrated sport, athletes do not have to fulfill any sex-related quota, so, in theory, if all the best athletes were men, then only men would be participating. Overall at Rio 2016, 45% of athletes were female, and within equestrianism 38% were female, a similar figure. Interestingly, the four most dominant Olympic equestrian nations in the 21st century had more female representation than the average. Discussions on sport and gender are often focused on the physicality or the performance aspect which highlights the differences between the sexes based on the biological and socially constructed gender order in society. As Dashper (2012, p. 215) explains, in the context of equestrian sport, there are no sex-based biological advantages for either males or females, "within the equestrian partnership the horse will always be the stronger partner". Equestrian sport does offer a lens to investigate a different approach to promoting female participation in sport.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWomen in Sport and Physical Activity Journal
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


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