Gender equity takes centre stage at Young Leaders Forum

IAAF President Seb Coe with the participants of the 2018 Young Leaders Forum
Getty Images for IAAF

Encouraging women to take up leadership roles in sport was a key topic of discussion today by speakers at the Young Leaders Forum, taking place on the sidelines of the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships this week.

European Athletics Vice President Jean Gracia raised the subject in his welcome address, telling the participants: “I am very pleased to see a full room of Young Leaders, and I am also very happy to see that the gender balance has been respected. In fact, it has gone beyond what we expected.”

Of the 68 participants at this year’s forum, 39 are woman. Forty-four countries in total are represented.

“Gender equity is a very important topic for us,” Gracia continued. “We have included it in the IAAF and European Athletics constitutions and we are pushing our Member Federations to do the same. On the field of play in athletics we have parity – we have an equal number of men and women competing. But in leadership positions we have a lot of progress still to make. We count on you as you are the future of our Federations.”

The 4-day forum is aimed at giving active young professionals in sport a chance to network, develop work and life skills, and apply best practices in their own communities upon returning home.

The participants of the 9-12 August forum are young leaders from European Athletics Member Federations. They are taking part in plenary sessions and breakout sessions on a variety of topics, from anti-doping and gender equity to personal development and youth advocacy.

A special guest speaker dropped by in the afternoon to impart his five decades of knowledge in the world of athletics. IAAF President Seb Coe talked about his life in sport, advice for athletes transitioning into new careers after sport, and the need for gender balance, an issue he said he takes very seriously.

“When I became IAAF president I looked across the 214 federations and I realised that although we are 50-50 on the field of play, we have equal prize money for our athletes … in 2016 there was only one woman who was head of a federation. (I am pleased to report that we now have three or four on top of that in the past year or two.)”

“[This led me to want] to make some fundamental changes to the IAAF constitution. It is now enshrined in our constitution that 28 or 29 percent of all our governances will have to have female representation by 2019. In 2023, that number will go to over 40 percent. And the big jump will be from 2023 to 2027, when every governance structure within the IAAF will be 50-50. That means by 2027, it will be constitutionally illegal to have any governance structure within the IAAF that doesn’t have equal representation.”

This is clearly encouraging news for all young women aspiring to take up leadership positions in sport.

Seb Coe’s visit finished with a lively Q&A with the Young Leaders, whose questions ranged from how to keep athletics relevant in a changing world to what impact the youth voice can have on major sporting events such as the European Championships.

Organised by young leaders themselves, the forum promises to maximise sharing and emphasise collaboration. Daily team challenges have been included to the agenda to keep things lively and fun. Today’s programme included segments on project management, leadership and wellbeing, as well as a networking session.

The Young Leaders’ mission is to promote volunteer work and projects in athletics in order to help members develop themselves and make valuable contributions to sport and their local communities.

The community is driven by its members with support from European Athletics, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) and the Member Federations of European Athletics.

The aim is to use modern communications and social media tools to encourage volunteering and grassroots projects that promote athletics and help to prepare the sport’s next generation of leaders.