Women and Sport chair Anita DeFrantz. (ATR)
(ATR) The 5th World Conference on Women and Sport kicks off with IOC awards, finger-pointing at FIFA and calls for the Olympic Flame to return to Los Angeles.
IOC president Jacques Rogge, USOC chair Larry Probst, L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and London 2012 chief Sebastian Coe all took the stage during Thursday evening's opening ceremony, but women were fittingly the stars.
Anita DeFrantz, the senior U.S. member on the IOC as well as chair of its Women and Sport Commission, delivered the longest speech of the night. She also drew the healthiest round of applause from the 750 delegates representing 140 countries – and the night's only boos.
The former came for noting that London 2012 will feature both sexes competing in every sport on the Olympic program for the first time with the addition of women's boxing, and the latter in support of her calling out FIFA.
“In 1996, there were only four international federations that had women among their executive board members,” she said. “Over the years, we've reached a single number – one IF that has never had a woman on its governing board.
The conference is convening in the shadow of the Staples Center. (ATR)
“Yes, I will name that federation. It's football,” she added to a handful of jeers, the audience clearly behind her.
According to DeFrantz, international federations aren't the only ones making progress in recent years.
A total of 26 National Olympic Committees did not enter women in the 1996 Summer Games. That number is down to three for 2012 and, she predicts, zero by 2016.
The membership of the IOC now features 20 female members, just three shy of the Women and Sport Commission's original target.
And only 23 percent of Olympians at Los Angeles 1984 were women, a figure up to 43 percent for Beijing 2008 and 45 percent for London 2012.
Rogge added that both the Singapore 2010 and Innsbruck 2012 Youth Olympic Games also reached 45 percent – and made the point that women even get the discipline of synchronized swimming to themselves.
IOC president Jacques Rogge. (ATR)
Still, he said, societal pressures are preventing this newfound balance from extending off the field of play.
“We need more women leaders throughout the Olympic Movement not only to prove our commitment to gender equality but to take advantage of their grace, their energy and their creativity. Together we are all stronger,” added the IOC president, referencing the weekend's theme of “Together Stronger” and then officially declaring the conference open.
Substance Over Style
What the show lacked in style – a one-off performance from Russian-American songstress Elizaveta and a trumpet rendition of “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” composed by John Williams for Los Angeles 1984 were all – the speakers more than made up for in substance.
Billie Jean King, Julie Foudy, Manisha Malhotra and Michelle Kwan. (ATR)
The evening's main event was in fact a panel, rare for opening ceremonies of IOC gatherings.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King, double Olympic football champion Julie Foudy as well as newly crowned World Women and Sport Trophy winner Manisha Malhotra fielded questions from conference co-chair Michelle Kwan, also a five-time figure-skating world champion.
“I've had men in my life who've mentored me, who've made a difference. We're in this together, so let's help each other,” King insisted in a surprising shift away from women.
“The men who have the true power in your organizations are the ones who are truly going to make the difference,” she added to applause, “until we get women into positions of power.”
King then thanked DeFrantz – one of her “she-roes” - and fist-bumped Kwan to bring to a close this conference's first of 12 panels, one that will be tough to top.
Among the 52 candidates considered by the IOC, Malhotra was the big winner in the Women and Sport Awards.
Award winners in the front and presenters in the back. (ATR)
A tennis Olympian for India in 2000 and Asian Games silver medalist in 2002, she now searches the subcontinent for disadvantaged girls, then helps them find success through sport.
After her World Trophy were five continental winners: Peninnah Aligawesa Kabenge (Uganda) for Africa, Zaiton Othman (Malaysia) for Asia, Aikaterini Nafplioti-Panagopoulos (Greece) for Europe, Roseline Blake (Cook Islands) for Oceania and Bradesco Sports and Education Program and Center (Brazil) for the Americas.
Los Angeles Looks Ahead
Amid references to the city's Olympic past and multiculturalism makeup, residents twice made plugs for a third Summer Games.
Antonio Villaraigosa was the mayor behind Los Angeles 2016. (ATR)
“You have favored Los Angeles, a city that has twice hosted the Olympic Games,” said DeFrantz, “and I can assure you we are happy to welcome another opportunity to host a celebration of human excellence which is the Olympic Games."
Mayor Villaraigosa, a vocal proponent of Los Angeles 2016 before Chicago won the USOC nomination in 2007, also made the most of his time.
“We're extremely honored that you're here, and we look forward to the next time that we can host,” he said. “Of course, we do hope that the next time you visit, you bring the Olympic Flame with you.”
Written in Los Angeles by Matthew Grayson.
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