(ATR) When I first started to cover the IOC in earnest three decades ago, seven women held seats among the 93 members on the roster in 1992. That was less than eight percent of the total.
Today the number is 37 out of 102 members – more than one-third of the total.
A staggering 22 of those women joined under the presidency of Thomas Bach. With four years left in his mandate, Bach could preside over a gender equal IOC in 2025.
Guiding the IOC through the pandemic likely will be the singular challenge for which Bach is remembered. But his influence in bringing women into power at the IOC may be his enduring legacy.
A seemingly innocuous shuffle of Kirsty Coventry’s membership status earlier this month was the latest manifestation of Bach’s impact. Coventry has been an IOC member since 2013 as chair of the IOC Athletes Commission. She was slated to step down this year as her term comes to an end.
While she will be replaced by a new Athletes Commission chair to be elected later this year, Bach is obviously eager to keep this five-time Olympian on the IOC.
Coventry is too good for the IOC to cast adrift. Not yet even 40 -- she turns 38 in September -- Coventry has already led a remarkable life. She’s competed at five Olympics for Zimbabwe and has the medals to prove it. Since 2018 she has been her country’s minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation. A year later she became a mother.
She is a member of the IOC Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission and also leads the commission for the Dakar Youth Olympic Games, postponed from 2022 to 2026. Since 2018 she’s been a member of the IOC Executive.
While a reboot of her membership will knock Coventry down a few pegs on the seniority ladder at the IOC (another notable at the bottom is Sebastian Coe), she’ll have plenty of time to re-take her position at the front: she will be able to serve until age 70, around the time of the 2052 Summer Olympics.
Some of thecognoscenti in the Olympic world have already noted the implications of Coventry’s status but dismiss her as a successor to Bach in 2025. Too early, they say.
But if not Coventry, who else? Other women on the IOC likely to rise into more senior leadership roles include Mikaela Cojuangco Jaworski of the Philippines, now 47. German member Britta Heidemann is 39. Afghanistan’s Samira Asghari is 28 and could conceivably serve for more than 40 years on the IOC.
Among the more experienced female senior members, only Nawal El Moutawakel, who is subject to age 80 retirement, could serve a full term as IOC President from 2025. She turns 59 this year.
Even from the ranks of the male membership, potential candidates are sparse. Age limits rule out prospects such as Juan Antonio Samaranch, son of the late IOC president. Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Vieujant, chair of the IOC Commission for Paris 2024 and a world-class business executive, could serve just five years in office before retiring.
Seb Coe offers the unique combination of Olympic champion, politician, federation president and head of the London Olympics. But he is 64 and will be close to the IOC age limit in 2025.
Too early for Coventry to take command of the IOC in four years?
Hardly the case in the business world, where plenty of forty-somethings lead corporations that dwarf the IOC. While seniority counts in matters of IOC protocol, the ages of new members keep declining. This cadre of younger IOC members won’t have a second thought about backing one of their generation to lead the IOC. And with the Olympics on a course of change that includes gaming, skateboard and breaking, the IOC soon will wont for young leadership in sync with this new world of sport.
As Thomas Bach oversees the nominations of possibly a dozen or more members in his last years as president, it is reasonable to expect that he will expand the ranks of women even further.
Not enough experience for a woman to lead the IOC?
With likely more female members than ever, the vote of the IOC Session in 2025 will answer that question -- without hesitation.
Written by Ed Hula.