The World of Sports, A Man’s World?

Close your eyes. Imagine….the opening of the XXVI Olympic Winter Games 2032 in Oslo. The newly elected IOC president has just opened the games. Her opening remarks are broadcasted to more than three billion viewers. Athletes from all over the world are walking down the main street Karl Johan, waving to the engaged audience.

The IOC president is accompanied by the top executives, men and women, from the eight winter sports federations. The new FIFA president is invited to the winter capital of the world. She’s from the African continent and is not used to the cold weather. She shivers as she exhales the frosty air. The president of the World Snowboard Federation hands her his jacket. They rise and join the singing crowd!

Photo:, IBU World Championships Biathlon

Open your eyes. Was there something weird about your dream? Not really. It is 2032! We all know that gender inequality in sports expired two years ago!

24 intense hours in Bergen!

This week, I attended a round-table debate in Bergen, Norway. It was hosted by two ministers from our government, the Minister of Culture and Sports Linda Hofstad Helleland and the Minister of Children and Equality Solveig Horne.

I had looked forward to this meeting for weeks! I felt really humble, when I met the other participants. Great women with a tremendous amount of experience.

The round-table debate. The football president from Sierra Leone Isha Johansen sharing her groups opinions!

Anita L. De France, the first woman the be elected a vice president of the IOC executive board. Isha Johansen, the president of the Sierra Leonean Football Association. Kristin Helle, director of strategic partnerships from UN Women. Kristin Kloster Aasen, the 1. vice president of the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic committee and Confederation of Sports. Guri Hetland, CEO of Trondheim 2021 and coach. Dominique Niyonizigiye, responsible for the gender equality program in the IOC. Tove Moe Dyrhaug, managing director, Rosenborg Football Club. Karen Marie Ellefsen, a «living legend» sports journalist from Norwegian Broadcasting.  Ruth Holdaway, CEO of Women in Sports. Sarah Lewis, secretary general from FIS. Birgit Skarstein, paralympic athlete and world champion. Runa Møller Tangstad, a young leader from the Youth Olympic Games 2016.

A warm meeting between two rowers, paralympian and world champion Birgit Skarstein and olympic medal winner Anita De Frantz

For 24 hours, we shared experiences and stories. We got to know each other, had serious discussion and some good laughs. Finally, we met for a basketball match, coached by the Marco Elsafadi.

Check out the Joint Statement at the end of this blog post!

The Minister of Children and Equality Solveig Horne, coach and role model of the year Marco Elsafadi and the Minister of Culture and Sports Linda Hofstad Helleland  – ready for some action

The leadership of sports – a man’s world

We all love sports! It’s a world language. No matter gender, ethnicity, age or religion, we have fun together, playing or watching. Yet, looking at the numbers reflecting who controls the world of sport, on a national and international level, it’s a man’s world.

The facts!

  • Only 41 out of 404 presidents and secretary generals in the world of sports are women.
  • At the latest FIFA congress, two out of 207 voting members were women.
  • Norway is in the world lead when it comes to gender equality, but in sports we are lagging behind other industries.
  • Studies made by Women in Sports in UK, show that women’s sport sponsorship accounted for only 0.4% of total sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013.
  • Studies made by Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota, show that women are 40 % of all sports participants. But they only get 4 % of all sport media coverage. In addition, the sports women are presented in more sexually provocative poses, compared to the men.

The organizational structure of sports are defined and created by men. Leadership positions attract more men, than women. Some claim that the working hours (often evenings and weekends) and amount of traveling, if you are a top executive on a national or international level, scare women off. Some of these barriers are real, others are in our minds.

If your husband can work with sports during some weekends, why can’t you? I guess you already are investing a lot of hours into sports, but doing other tasks.

In many countries and organizations, we have glass ceilings. Some places a concrete roof! Many of the women in top executive position are super tough. They just went for it, and some didn’t crash through any ceilings!

I strongly believe that we need to break some ceilings, in order to create a greater diversity. By diversity, I mean gender, ethnicity, age and background.

Why does the world of sports have a problem?

Too little diversity on the top executive level is negative for the world of sports.

The index provider MSCI presented a study in 2015. 1.643 companies had been analyzed. The findings showed a 36 % higher return on equity, when MSCI compared organizations with strong female leadership with organizations without women at the most senior levels. I claim that these results also goes for to sport organizations.

Diversity is top executive positions is good for the financial bottom line.

Sport organizations and events will, eventually, be less attractive to sponsors. A recent example is the demand from the sponsor of the Oxford / Cambridge boat race. The sponsor demand was unequivocal:

Move the women’s race to the championship course on the Tideway alongside the men’s and give both equal funding or the deal is off. 

I wish more sponsors made these kind of demands! If the top management is a silver fox blazer brigade discriminating women in sport. Make demands or move your money elsewhere.

By not including women in the top executive positions, we don’t fulfill the potential of the population. I am sure that more women in top executive positions, is crucial to increase the recruitment and development of better condition for girls and women, all levels, all ages, as athletes, judges or coaches.

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The Norwegian Snowboard Association ran the PowderPuff Girls project for years, increasing the number of women in political, organizational and technical roles

A priority in the C-suite…

As for any big strategic change, gender equality must be a priority, for men and women, in the C-suite (a corporation’s most important senior executives). There must be a political will from the top. Strategies must be decided upon and be followed up. Laws and policies must be changed. Leaders must walk the talk.

The IOC has put forward the strategic initiativ, the 2020 Agenda. Gender equality is a stand alone goal, but also an integrated goal integrated into the other strategic development goals. Now, it is up to IOC president Thomas Bach to make sure his initiative gets implemented, and does not end up as dusted «paper tiger».

We need more leaders like the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who named a gender balanced cabinet «because it’s 2015».

Mr/mrs CEO, you don’t know where to start? Check out the Checklist for change, published by Women In Sports!

The Minister of Culture and Sports Linda Hofstad Helleland and and Kristin Kloster Aasen, the 1. vice president of the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic committee

..but we can all start in our backyard

Our minister of children and equality Solveig Horne said it perfectly right, we can all start cleaning up our backyard.

If you are you already in a top executive position, make diversity a priority and walk the talk. It is a danger that CXO women can be dancing on the glass ceiling and not recognize the need to work longterm and include women with other leadership skills and personalities.

Are you a mother supporting your kids in their daily sport activities. You take them to training. You clean their football shirt. You wax their snowboard. You make and sell waffles. You are already putting in many hours. Transform these hours into leadership of your local club. You make a difference for the local generation in your neighborhood.

Can we make an agreement, sister?

Since I came home, I have been thinking about how I can contribute. My blog is an obvious channel. I also want to get involved in my local community as my twin boys are growing up. I also hope, I can continue to contribute in the follow-up work from the round-table meeting.

How about you? Can we make an agreement, sister?

Next time someone ask you to a take on a board position (even if it the position as the chair person), say Yes!

Apply to that vacant interesting leader position in a sport organization. And if they don’t ask you! Just ask for it!

Lean into to the world of sports! Join the movement. Lean in, because we need your competence and perspectives! It all starts with the small steps.

No woman can change the world alone. But single actions or comments can change someones life.

You can make some ripples in a deep and wide ocean. Together, we can make some waves and change the landscape of sports! Diversity creates a better future for the world of sports!

We don’t have to wait for 2032. The journey is happening, but we must speed it up!

Women and men, mothers, fathers or any engaged soul, lean into to the world of sports! We need you all!


Have a great and active Sunday!

Feel free to share this blog post, in your social media! 

Cecilia :*

The joint statement from the round-table meeting in Bergen!

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1 kommentar

  1. Great article, just what I needed.

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