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What the Olympics Can Teach Us About Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Courtesy: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images

Japan successfully hosted the 2020 Olympic Games after a yearlong delay. The Games are known as the world’s greatest sporting event, but they’re also a celebration of, and a blueprint for, diversity, equity and inclusion.


With thousands of athletes representing more than 200 countries, the Olympics were undoubtedly diverse.


Fair play is a cornerstone of the Olympic spirit. Each Olympic sport is governed by a set of rules observed all around the world. Athletes are held to the same standards in their quest to qualify for, and compete in, the Olympic Games. One of the fundamental principles of Olympism reads, “the practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”


With more than 160 LGBTQ athletes competing in Tokyo, 2020 was the most inclusive Olympics ever, according to ESPN. Plus, the Refugee Olympic Team, which was created in 2016, allows athletes to keep competing even if they have been forced to leave their home countries. 10 athletes competed in 2016. 29 athletes competed in Tokyo.


The diversity, equity and inclusion on display at the Tokyo Olympics were no accident. The Tokyo Games were dubbed the “diversity” Olympics as Japanese organizers announced their commitment to welcoming people from all walks of life from all around the world. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee adopted a diversity and inclusion strategy within their own organization and operated under the tagline “Know Differences, Show Differences” as they planned for the Olympics.

Ahead of the Tokyo Games, the International Olympic Committee published a new edition of its Portrayal Guidelines, calling for fair and equal representation of athletes across all forms of media and communication regardless of gender. IOC President Thomas Bach struck a similar tone in his speech during the Opening Ceremony. “This Olympic experience makes all of us very humble because we feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are part of an event that unites the world. United in all our diversity, we become bigger than the sum of our parts. We are always stronger together,” he said.


The Olympics have come a long way from the days when only men from a handful of countries competed, but the Games and the sports industry in general still have far to go. Equity continues to be a challenge for women athletes, particularly when it comes to the challenges of motherhood. In 2019, Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix accused Nike - her sponsor at the time - of discriminating against her due to her pregnancy. She has since stepped to the forefront of the equity fight.

"When you see me run, know that I'm not running for medals. I'm running for change," Felix wrote on Instagram last month. "I'm running for greater equity for each of us. I'm running for women. More than anything, I'm running toward a future where no woman or girl is ever told to know her place."

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