There were no women athletes in the first modern Olympic games. The next time around, in the 1900 Paris games, out of 997 athletes there were 22 women, who competed in just five acceptably ladylike sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism and golf. Over a century later, the introduction of women’s boxing meant that the 2012 Olympics were the first to feature women competing in all sports. But that moment of parity has been followed almost immediately by a drastic challenge to the very definition of women’s sport, as the International Olympic Committee brought out new rules last November on the inclusion of trans athletes.
On Monday, I was invited onto the World Service’s World Have Your Say programme to talk about Britain’s performance in the Olympics – in particular, the showing of our female athletes, and whether this his been a breakthrough Olympics for women’s sport. (The researcher got in touch as a result of this piece for the Guardian.) It was a really enjoyable hour, and I especially liked listening to Ghanaian judo competitor Emmanuel Nartey, who was hugely good natured under a torrent of questions about how it felt to lose. (I’d have guessed at “bloody awful”, but like most elite athletes and everybody else, Nartey has a more mature attitude to success and failure than me.)