"Increasing participation is not easy, especially in countries where there are cultural barriers to women practicing sport. Role models are essential and I am delighted to see so many female Paralympians coming through who can inspire the next generation.”
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is targeting gender parity at future Paralympic Games in terms of participation and the number of medal events for each sex, according to its President Sir Philip Craven.
Speaking at the opening of this week’s 6th International Working Group (IWG) World Conference on Women and Sport in Helsinki, Finland, Sir Philip said much had been done to increase female participation in para-sport since the formation of the IPC Women in Sport Committee in 2002.
“By 2016 around 1,650 women, roughly 38 per cent of all athletes, will compete in the Rio Paralympic Games, more than double the 790 who took part in Atlanta in 1996,” the 63-year-old five-time Paralympian told the audience.
“Women will also compete in 43 per cent of all medal events, a 12 per cent rise on London 2012.”
Sir Philip said that it is not as simple for the IPC as introducing a 50/50 split in participation and events at the next Games and that the move towards gender parity would take time.
Sir Philip said: “The growth has to be organic and has to come from the grassroots. It is no-use creating more medal events for women if there are not enough athletes to compete at the highest level.
“Increasing participation is not easy, especially in countries where there are cultural barriers to women practicing sport. Role models are essential and I am delighted to see so many female Paralympians coming through who can inspire the next generation.”
As well as highlighting how athletes such as Dutch blade runner Marlou van Rhijn and Iranian Paralympic champion archer Zarah Nemati are inspiring more women to take up sport, Sir Philip also spoke about the importance of increasing the number of female coaches too.
“It is important that strategies are implemented to increase the number of female elite coaches who can not only train more women, but also more men.
“Jenny Archer, the coach of Great Britain’s David Weir, a six-time Paralympic champion in wheelchair racing, is perfect evidence of how a woman can rise to the top in international coaching and succeed.”
Sir Philip, who is serving his fourth term as IPC President, added that in addition to increasing participation on the field of play more needs to be done off it to bring more women into leadership roles within sporting organisations.
He explained that last year’s IPC Governing Board elections - when just four of the 27 candidates seeking election were women - was evidence that the Paralympic Movement must do more.
“Across the whole IPC membership – covering National Paralympic Committees, International Sport Federations and Organisations and Regional Organisations - just 24 per cent of all key decision making positions are taken by women,” said Sir Philip, who pointed to the Agitos Foundation’s WoMentoring project as a possible solution to increasing the figure to 30 per cent in the near future.
“The mentoring project, which is initially a pilot targeting Europe, involves 32 women from 20 IPC member organisations and the aim is that over the next two years mentees will gain and develop the tools and knowledge to continue to make their mark in sport.
“The mentors are experienced in a wide variety of sports organisations from both within and outside the Paralympic Movement, whilst the mentees are equally as varied, from athletes and coaches to secretaries and even some existing board members.
“If successful, the pilot will be rolled out globally and hopefully soon we can see the same progress off the field of the play as we have seen on it in recent years.”
In closing his speech, Sir Philip summed up what was needed in six words.
“Quite simply, sport needs more women!”