On International Women’s Day this year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee (TOCOG), the Government of Japan, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) reiterated their commitment to making the Olympic and Paralympic Games a historic one, announcing that the upcoming Tokyo Olympics will be the first gender-balanced Games in history.
The announcement came after a turbulent few months for the Tokyo Olympics, with Yoshiro Mori, then President of TOCOG having resigned over sexist comments about women. Later, the creative chief of Tokyo 2020, Hiroshi Sasaki, also quit after derogatory remarks towards actress and comedian Naomi Watanabe. The current President of TOCOG, Hashimoto Seiko, herself a former Olympian, has vowed to tackle gender inequality and to make Japan a more inclusive society.
Indonesia, throughout its participation, has not achieved a gender-balanced status. At its first appearance at the Olympics, the 1952 Helsinki Games, not a single women were part of the delegation. This happened again in the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
Despite that backdrop, Indonesian women actually paved the way for success at the Olympics. In the Seoul Olympics in 1988, three Indonesian archers, Lilies Handayani, Nurfitriyana Saiman, and Kusuma Wardhani brought home the nation’s first-ever Olympic medal, winning the silver medal in the women’s team event. Four years later, Susi Susanti, won Indonesia’s first-ever gold medal in badminton, winning the women’s singles event.
In fact, since 1988, Indonesian women have always contributed a medal in every Olympic Games. Overall, Indonesian women have won 12 medals at the Olympics, including a high of three medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
This is certainly something that we can all be proud of, the achievement of these women (and not just at the Olympics, but also Asian Games, and SEA Games among others) must be celebrated. But more than that, it is also imperative that every stakeholder of Indonesian sports come together with initiatives that will boost the participation of women in sports, not just as athletes but also in the governance and administration of sports as decision-makers.
Women’s sports is still a growing sector, not just in terms of participation but also commercially. In the United Kingdom, the Women’s Super League marked its first decade by announcing a broadcast deal worth approximately £8m a season (Rp 161 billion) with BBC and Sky. Research by Two Circles, an insight agency, finds that women’s sports could generate more than £1bn (Rp 161 trillion) per year by 2030, making it one of the fastest-growing sectors in the sports industry.
Off the field, in the United States, athletes of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) have been widely celebrated for their activism, among them in addressing social justice, racism, and also voter-registration campaign.
The truth is we have barely scratched the surface of women’s potential in sports. A level playing field should not be a mere slogan, it should be the bare minimum.