Without female trainers, there is no parity: how a program works to close the gender gap | Sports

There are hardly any female coaches in the elite. In the Tokyo Games they were only 13%. In the last 13 years (since Vancouver 2010, where they were 10%) the percentage has barely increased by 3%. It reached 11% in London 2012 and Rio 2016 and dropped to 9% in Sochi 2014. While parity has been practically reached in the number of athletes (in Tokyo the women who competed were 48.7% and in Paris 2024 He hopes they will be 50%), they hardly continue to see female trainers. Without going any further, 125 coaches traveled in the Spanish delegation that attended the 2021 Games: only 13 were women. The International Olympic Committee (IOC, in its acronym in English) is aware of the situation and, after organizing a working group in 2018 (called the Gender Equality Group and led by Marisol Casado) has financed a program of one million euros aimed at reduce the gap, network and empower women.

Myriam Fox is a former Olympic sailor (she won France’s first medal in whitewater in the women’s category at Atlanta 96) and is the mother and trainer of Jessica Fox, twelve world and Olympic medalists for Australia to her credit, also in whitewater. Fox mother is 61 years old and in December she received the IOC lifetime achievement award that recognizes those coaches who have dedicated their lives to athletes. “The world needs more women coaches. The more women we have, the more they think they can access these jobs and that it’s okay to be a coach,” she said at the gala. In a conversation with EL PAÍS, she tells why it is necessary, why she believes that there are so few technical women and tells what her path was.

With a degree in sports science and physical education, she applied after the 1996 Games for a position as “national coach” in canoeing in France. “But I didn’t get the job. At that time she had a two-year-old daughter and she knew that she wanted more children. I accepted his decision [de la Federación francesa] assuming they didn’t hire me because I had a little girl. It was pretty rare to see female trainers with babies. Now I would think differently…”. She went to Australia following her husband who coached the Australian Olympic team in Sydney 2000. “There I started helping the youth national team as a volunteer coach, as my priority was looking after my young children. Later I realized that having small children should not be an obstacle in a sports career and although it was not easy, I managed to balance my personal life and some training. I became a part-time national coach and in 2004 full-time.” She says that her luck was that the Federation saw her motivation. “I have always been part of a men’s team, but I felt that I had my place and that they valued me as a coach. She was accepted, it’s also the open-minded male coaches who realized that she could bring a different way of training that could be valuable.”

Not everyone is that lucky. Not all continue to insist on continuing. Not all meet with open doors. Not all try. Hence the IOC has decided to invest money with its Olympic Solidarity fund to finance WISH [Women in Sport High Performance Pathway Programme] a mentoring program aimed at those coaches who have shown potential and ambition to support them in assuming that role in elite sport. As Nils Holmegaard, head of Olympic Solidarity and the Olympic Values ​​programmes, affirms, this is a “long-term” battle that the IOC “takes very seriously” and that has to start from the grassroots – where many times it trains voluntarily, where there are no schedules– so that there are female role models.

The Federations request the places for the program through their national Olympic committees and it is the international ones that carry out the selection process (the candidates have to be national level technicians and meet a series of training requirements). The director is Elizabeth Pike, Professor of Sport, Health and Exercise at the University of Hertfordshire. She tells this newspaper one of the reasons why she, she believes, there are so few coaches and few of those who start continue or reach the elite. “Sports as an industry is based on an outdated model that does not reflect modern society and the social progress that has been achieved elsewhere. We need to reassess the strategic priorities, structures and values ​​of sport so that it can help drive social change and equity.”

Since WISH was launched, according to data from the organization, 97 coaches from 51 different countries and 17 sports have participated (including cycling, canoeing, triathlon, handball, judo, rowing, volleyball, rugby, skiing, tennis, archery…). The fundamental thing, in addition to empowering women, is to create a network so that when the coaches return to their countries, they can serve as an example to others. This is how Pamela Fulton, a Zimbabwean triathlon coach, told it. “One of the keys, apart from gaining confidence and discovering the path to achieve my goals, was the inspiration I felt from working with other coaches and seeing what they had achieved (three went to the Games). If they can, so can I and I can pass it on to the coaches of my country”.

Myriam Fox believes that this is essential. “Athletes should be encouraged to become coaches and encouraged to follow their dream, if they see that it is unattainable or impossible, if they lack role models in their sport, it is difficult to break down doors and show that they can do it.” In Tokyo, as Fox celebrated her daughter’s medals in the whitewater flume, the stark reality became apparent in the pavilions: there were no women leading men’s basketball, handball, soccer, volleyball, field hockey or rugby teams. . In the women’s basketball teams, for example, seven of the top 12 teams were coached by men. In the handball teams, 11 out of 12. In the soccer teams there were barely four women (out of 12) directing; in field hockey: 4 of 24; in volleyball: 2 women out of 10; in rugby, none. The only discipline with a clear majority was artistic swimming (of the 13 Spanish coaches, three of those who traveled to Tokyo were from this sport, precisely).

Carolina Mora (in the center of the image) with the other four triathlon coaches who participate in the WISH program.
Carolina Mora (in the center of the image) with the other four triathlon coaches who participate in the WISH program. WORLD TRIATHLON

Carolina Mora, a 42-year-old Costa Rican, has just returned from London where she has been participating in the course – it started a month ago and will end in the summer of 2024 – after being chosen by the International Triathlon Federation. This is how she tells this newspaper about her experience. She was a high-level triathlete and cyclist, later coach of the national junior triathlon team (one of her athletes competed in three world championships in that category). She left him five years ago when she became a mother-she now works in the national Federation in the development and education processes of triathlon coaches-because reconciliation was an impossible mission. “I had to choose, because the calendar of international competitions was very demanding.” Asked if she never considered taking her girl to the competitions, she answers: “yes, but it wasn’t particularly well regarded. In our national team there was no mechanic, for example, I had to do everything, load and unload the bicycles, drive the car…” She regrets that, still in 2023, we have to choose between motherhood or professional growth. “In Latin America the woman is still seen as the breadwinner of the home and, therefore, she has to be present at home.” After a course financed by World Triatlon in Korea, she returned to Costa Rica with the possibility of doing a training camp in Argentina. “A director of that Federation said that it was better for him to be a man, because many boys had to be managed and controlled… Unfortunately, there are still sexist barriers,” he recounts.

How is WISH helping you? She answers by recalling a talk she had in London with her mentor and which serves as a reflection on the need for this project. “You are already more than empowered, right? She asked me, looking at my trajectory. Not necessarily, I replied, even though I have been in this sport for 20 years”. She dwells that the tutorials are essential to learn to value yourself. “Not to be afraid to compete for a position, to tell you: I can do it well, I am qualified for it.” She was shocked that WISH works without technological tools. “They teach us to empower you as a woman and as a coach, to know how to gain a place, how to achieve what we want. You learn by doing and a lot of emphasis was placed on personal growth, on development as a person: having your own style, prioritizing well-being”. And she adds: “The deficiency that most of us had is that we worked to empower others. Here we have been taught to boost the performance of your own company: whether it is a training dumbbell or your work team, to identify key people, to know how to influence and inspire, to be a leader. Normally, we are not working on ourselves, it is always done for the benefit of the athlete”.

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