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"Balance in Sport - Tools to implement Gender Equality - A stepping stone event to making the difference"

Strasbourg , 

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Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this event, where we can reaffirm our commitment to gender balance in sport – and to working together to achieve it.

This is my third meeting on the challenges facing sport in as many weeks.

A fortnight ago I was in the United Kingdom, during the same weekend in which the Foundation Board of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) set out plans to better equip the international regulator to deal with the ongoing doping crisis.

Last Tuesday I was in Budapest, to participate in a Ministerial conference organised by EPAS and hosted by the Hungarian Government. The conference brought together national authorities and the sports movement to agree joint action against doping, and also match-fixing, and more broadly to improve good governance in sport. Particularly, to ensure more transparent governance structures, in which decision-makers are accountable and conflicts of interest are avoided.

And now I am here with you.

Here, first of all, to celebrate the steps which have been taken towards greater gender balance in sport.

It is important that women’s participation has increased: around 40-45% of the athletes competing in the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games were women. And, more than ever, the stunning successes of our great female athletes are watched and celebrated the world over, providing inspiration to millions of little girls – and boys. Someone who knows all about this is Sarah Ourahmoune. Sarah came back from Brazil with a silver medal for her performance in the women’s flyweight boxing,

and we are privileged to have her here with us today.

And, friends, we are here because we wish to build on the progress which has been made, to tackle the inequality which remains.

These days, many more women share in the glory of sport. But too few still share in the power.

Women continue to be woefully underrepresented in leadership positions. Only 11 are presidents of National Olympic Committees, compared to 195 men. Only 2 made it into this year’s top 100 highest paid athletes. The glass ceiling still prevents female coaches from fairly occupying the top jobs. The vast majority of sports news is still written by men, about men. 

We inhabit the world it seems; but we still don’t share in ruling it.

So what can we do?

Well, I suggest that we use, to our advantage, the fact that we find ourselves at a critical moment in sport.

The sporting world is undergoing an unprecedented period of public scrutiny and self-reflection.

It is true that, mostly, the focus is on restoring the integrity of sport, following the seemingly endless corruption scandals and stories of greed and personal ambition.

But, with all eyes on the sporting world, we have an opportunity to put the systemic discrimination of women in the spotlight, too. 

Many people are now asking: “how does power operate in sport? Who holds it?”

And this opens up space for adding a gender dimension to the debate, and for showing that sport still remains too much of a man’s world.

If we can make inequality part of the wider conversation about cleaning up and modernising sport, I am certain that we can build momentum and support.

The Council of Europe is absolutely committed to this cause.

As you know, we, uniquely, are able to put such issues in front of our 47 member states.

We have already assessed how our governments are doing in gender mainstreaming in sport.

We are also a facilitator, bringing national authorities and sports organisations together around the table, as we are today.

And, through our Balance in Sport project, “towards gender equality”, which we launched with our partners in the European Commission in January, we have sought to record gender inequalities in sport in a more comprehensive and systematic way than has been done in the past.

This includes in leadership and coaching, in the portrayal of women athletes in the media, and with regard to gender-based violence.

By producing a set of indicators by which the gaps between men and women can be measured, we have created a yardstick by which all countries, all sports, all federations, and all sports organisations, can assess their own performance. And a yardstick by which others can measure them, too.

The initial reaction to the project has been very encouraging. We know we are getting something right when we hear, for example, the French Swimming Federation and others tell us that they had not realised the extent of their own problems, but thanks to our indicators, they do – and they are going to do something about it.

The project has also helped bring together national sports organisations and their sports ministries, as they co-operate on revealing and addressing the gaps which persist.

And, over time, by collecting this data, the project can help strengthen the campaign for greater equality in sport by grounding it in facts and figures; in evidence. And by providing consistent data on which progress can be properly judged.

I would like to thank all those who have helped get the “Balance in Sport” project off the ground. That goes for our friends in Brussels, the public authorities involved – Finland, France, Romania and Spain deserve a special mention – and of course the sports organisations, as well as the EPAS Governing Board and Consultative Committee.

Of course, what matters now is that the indicators are put to good use: and on this we all need to keep banging the drum. You can count on the Council of Europe to keep pushing this issue with our member states as well as our partners in sport.

More broadly, I hope that we will continue widening and deepening this network of ours. As I said, we need to seize every opportunity to capitalise on the present appetite for reform in sport, making sure that gender equality is part of the picture too.

That means advocacy; lobbying; campaigning; giving the issue visibility; looking at our legal and regulatory frameworks; seeking and providing political support; each of us has a role to play. And we are most effective when we speak with one voice.

One final thing before I conclude: next year, working with the Commission, the Council of Europe will be focusing even more squarely on the problem of gender-based violence in sport. The dramatic revelations in the UK – regarding what appears to have been widespread, historical abuse of children in football –are a tragic reminder of the need to address this issue. And I strongly hope that you will continue to work closely with us as we move ahead on this front.

With that, thank you for being here. I look forward to working with you all in the future. And I wish you the very best for your stay.