Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Title IX Olympics?

Several U.S. newspapers have been running this article, referring to the London Games as "the Title IX Olympics" -- a reference to the record participation by women worldwide.  It's a laudable milestone that this is the first Olympics to which every country has sent at least one woman, and that countries like Russia, along with the U.S., have more female athletes in their delegations than male. But to credit Title IX for this is of course taking things a bit too far.  Title IX is, after all, U.S. law and has absolutely nothing to do with Saudi Arabia's or Russia's notions of gender equality.  It is also a misleading reference because Title IX is an education law, not a sports law.  The U.S. Olympic Committee and all of the various U.S. national governing bodies of sport are created and governed by a different law, the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act.  Unlike Title IX, this statute provides no legal recourse against national governing bodies that provide more resources and opportunities to male athletes -- an issue that vexes women's sports advocates who push for equal treatment among men's and women's national teams and development programs in various Olympic sports.  Outside the U.S., the ongoing Games have exposed high-profile examples of resource inequality from other countries as well as imbedded in the structure of the Games, such as the fact that these "Title IX Olympics" offer about 30 fewer events for women (see also this, but see, this). 

I'm thrilled that athletes like U.S. swimmer Dana Vollmer are crediting Title IX for creating opportunities for them to compete in high school and college. But the media's overuse of the Title IX mantra glosses over some of the real remaining obstacles to gender equality in sport, in the U.S. and around the world.

(It's also possible that I'm just angry to see the Title IX label attached to these Olympics, the first in 20 years where there is no women's softball being played -- softball being the poster-sport for Title IX in this blogger's opinion.) 

*It does have a nondiscrimination provision, but it only prohibits acts of individual discrimination based on sex and other protected characteristics, not a requirement to equal treatment by an NGB.