Faster, higher, stronger …

LatAm female athletes continued their progress at Tokyo 2020.

Latin American women made history in the Summer Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020 with six gold, 11 silver and seven bronze medals, accumulating 39.7% of the region’s silverware. In some cases, women have led their delegations, an historic achievement considering they represented less than half of the Olympic delegations for their countries.

The increase in silverware for Latin American women in Tokyo 2020 compared to Rio 2016 could be explained with an increase in female participation, from 46% in Rio to 51% in Tokyo. However, this isn’t the entire story as sport for women in Latin America has been traditionally underfunded and, in most disciplines, athletes need to overcome financial obstacles, lack of equipment and limited access to training facilities.

A leading sports coach in Brazil confirmed, “Competitive ambition has been the main driving force for female athletes in Brazil, especially since the current government has reduced financial support and grants for athletes in general, which has a more significant impact on women.”

“Competitive ambition has been the main driving force for female athletes in Brazil, especially since the current government has reduced financial support.”

Sports coach, Brazil

Since 2012, the International Olympic Committee and UN Women have been closely collaborating to promote the participation of women in sport. In Rio 2016 both organisations launched the common “One-win leads to another” programme to provide access and support to girls in sport. Other common initiatives include assistance programmes for athletes, coaches and sport managers in collaboration with national Olympic committees.

Another of the main drivers behind the growing participation of Latin American women in sports is the inspiration provided by successful women athletes and the widespread media attention given to their achievements in Tokyo 2020. Venezuelan athlete Yulimar Rojas, who broke the world record in women’s triple jump, is an outspoken LGBTQ activist; and Brazilian Rebecca Andrade, raised in a poor household, won the country’s first gold medal in women’s gymnastics and was honoured with being Brazil’s flag-bearer at the closing ceremony.

The progress of Brazilian female athletes is a consequence of their integration into professional sports competition. The country obtained its first female sports medals in Atlanta 1996 and, in London 2012, it sent a female delegation for all sports competitions for the first time. However, Brazilian female athletes consider that authorities should give more visibility to their sports to increase sponsorship and favour a clearer regulation as, for instance, only 1% of Brazilian women footballers have professional contracts.

A manager of a non-profit sports development organisation in Brazil explained, “Bolsonaro has been disgraceful in the way he has treated women and it has not been different in the world of sport. In January this year he laughed at the women’s national football team when they called for equal pay for both the men’s and women’s national teams. The current administration does not see the positive incentives that sports programmes have on the integration of women in society so we are facing a structural problem which, sadly, will not be addressed in this presidential term.”

“The current administration does not see the positive incentives that sports programmes have on the integration of women in society so we are facing a structural problem which, sadly, will not be addressed in this presidential term.”

Manager, non-profit sports development organisation, Brazil

A Brazilian sports correspondent felt some luck was involved, “Brazilian female athletes have a reason to be proud after their performance in Tokyo. However, unpopular as it may sound, given the current victorious narrative sweeping Brazil, there was some luck involved too. The bronze in women’s tennis doubles was completely unexpected and Andrade, despite a fantastic performance, would not have won against Simone Biles. I guess that is the beauty of sport thought, nothing is a foregone conclusion.”

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