IOC Member on role of women in sports development (Daily Observer (Gambia))

Beatrice Allen, an International Olympic Committee member said women are critical stakeholders in the development of sports, just as sports is critical to society’s development. Women’s involvement in sports, she said helps to overcome the prejudices that often contribute to social vulnerabilities of women and girls generally, and have the power to impact on the contemporary social concept of women in our society.

Sports can empower girls, giving them confidence, teamwork and leadership skills, which they carry with them for the rest of their lives as mothers and responsible members of the family and society, Allen, the first vice president of The Gambia National Olympic Committee said.

The leadership experience gained at a young age through sports can stimulate our young Gambian women to strive for leadership positions as they grow and become adults. I would therefore implore on you to recognise and appreciate the role of women and girls in sports, for the good of the society.

Ms. Allen, who is a member of the IOC Women in Sports Commission, as well a member of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer Olympic Games coordinating committee, was speaking on the role of women in sports at the launching of The Gambia Football Federation and FIFA Live Your Goals concept at a local hotel in Kololi at the weekend. The concept seeks to develop women footballers at the grassroots.

She said one of the missions of the IOC is to encourage and support the promotion of women in sports, at all levels and in all structures, with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women. She added that women and girls’ position in society and in the sports world in general depends mainly on the social, political, economic and cultural context in which they live.

However, in line with the ideals of the International Olympic Committee, the role of women within the Olympic Movement and the world of sports is an important element of the missions of the IOC. Sport is of great value to people and knows no boundary. It gives form and substance to our lives by enhancing both academic ability and professionalism, increasing self-esteem, and encouraging healthy lifestyles.

Personally, she said, she has taken women’s participation in sports very seriously, and has used various tools and mechanisms to sensitise Gambians about women, sports and development. She added that at the level of the GNOC, a lot of initiatives have been launched, one of which is the introduction of a women’s sports festival as a mechanism for public awareness and appreciation of women’s involvement in sport related activities.

She recalled that in 2011, the GNOC organised a women’s Sports Festival on the theme, Promoting women and girls in football, in collaboration with The Gambia Football Federation. This Festival, she added, has mobilised women footballers from all the administrative regions and football clubs for a week. In addition to that, a one-day seminar was held to discuss and come up with solutions on the challenges women and girls face in football, which she said created the best platform for women’s football, and also served as a catalyst in the development and promotion of women’s football, and set the pace for talent identification.

This event resulted in the ability of the [GFF] in the identification of talent and selection of the national women’s team that participated in the FIFA Women’s World Cup competition in Azerbaijan. Even though the result of the competition was not favourable, the important aspect was that the team members were exposed to international standards, and their self-esteem uplifted.

Ms Allen added: As we engage ourselves in this very important exhibition of the FIFA Live Your Goals campaign, I am proud to say that the 2011 festival has yielded fruit for the GFF and made an impact on its policy-reorientation. This is manifested in the GFF strategic development plan on women’s football development, which seeks to ensure women occupy administrative and technical positions of all aspects of football.

Speaking further, she said one of the fundamental pillars of Olympics is sustainable human development, achievable through the Olympic sporting programmes, in terms of environmental conservation, promoting women in sports and development, promoting grassroots sports, and promoting the values of fair play. This, she added, make sport an important factor for socio-economic growth. Sports she went on, is an activity which offers the individual the opportunity of self-knowledge, self-expression and fulfillment, personal achievement, demonstration of ability, social interaction, enjoyment, good health and a feeling of personal wellbeing.

The GNOC first vice president took the opportunity to congratulate the GFF for launching the FIFA Live Your Goals concept here in The Gambia, and wished them the very best in their strive for excellence.

She explained that in the gender discourse, different concepts about women’s development and women’s empowerment are used, adding that in the sporting world and Olympic Movement, some countries press on equality, and some press on equity, while some use both equality and equity.

I am here to tell you that in the context of Africa and in particular The Gambia, we can start from equity. This is because equity is about the quality of being fair or being impartial. It’s about fair mindedness, being just and instilling a thorough process that is objective, based on justice and integrity, Allen, a women activist added.

She opined that the difference between men and women is not merely a matter of biology, but also a matter of gender differentiation, and how males and females think and feel differently. For the woman, she added, surrender is one key ingredient to her feminine behaviour. She said a woman has the power to surrender her independence, her will and her destiny to her family and in her marriage and as a mother, continues to surrender her life for the life of her child. This, she said, is not only a productive role, but also a reproductive role.

Therefore, when we engage women in the development process, especially in sports, these roles of women must be part of the thought process, in order to avoid frustrations and lack of interest on the side of women.