The information below summarises some of the general trends and identifies key moments for women and sport.

For more detailed and critical understanding, you may also wish to read some of the leading socio-historical texts on women and sport.




Up to 1920s

The majority of sport is organised by men, for men. British public school games are globalised and influence the relationship females have with sport. Physical (e.g. male-only membership), social (e.g. men in control in society) and cultural (e.g. exercise deemed unwomanly) barriers work to limit women and girls’ engagement in most facets of sport.

Scandinavian gymnastic advances for women’s participation, which influences North America and Western Europe.

Women in the USA and UK participate in physical education and dance.

Women’s involvement in upper-class British sport (tennis, golf).


The growth and influence of Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) on women’s athletics in Europe and the lobbying of dominant patriarchal sports organisations.

Significant voting laws enacted in some Western countries.

Physical education and dance developments in Japan and China.


Reorganisation and restructuring of national organisations for women’s physical education, women’s sport, and women in sport in the USA and Scandinavia.

FSFI thrives and then ceases.

Late 1940s/early 1950s

United Nations (UN) mandates on Human and Equal Rights.

Late 1950s

Formation of international physical education, sport science, sport, and recreation organisations. There is also growth of women and sport organisations in areas of in East Asia.

Early 1960s

Civil and Equal rights enacted in countries in response to UN work a decade earlier.

Mid 1960s

American 'Institutes' for physical education and sport for women formed.

Council of Europe 'Sport for All' discussions.


The UN dedicates a focus toward the oppression of women globally.

Early 1970s

Elite female athletes in the USA come to prominence.

Significant structural/political development for sport generally (e.g. European Sports Conference; Great Britain Sports Council).

Origins for North American women and sport advocacy organisations.

Mid 1970s

General declarations for sport at continental and global level emerge.

‘First' international women and sport conference in 1978.

Early 1980s

Examples of seminars, workshops and the creation of committees within sport organisations appear in Scandinavia and Canada as a sign of the involvement in the political/structural development of sport for women. Enhancing women’s participation in sport is the key lobbying agenda. This is a shift from 100yrs before when women’s participation in sport was groundbreaking.

Mid 1980s

In countries such as Canada and the UK, discussions and engagement about women’s location in sport policies emerge.

Late 1980s

Lobbying of Commonwealth organisations begin and early developments made.

Significant developments made in Australia. These continue into the next decade.

There is a move away from issues to do with women’s participation toward women’s leadership in sport within the sport structures of western-European countries.



A European Sport Conference Working Group on Women and Sport (ESCWGWS) is formed as the first continental women and sport organisation that is aligned to the structure of sport.

The Islamic Countries’ Women’s Sport Solidarity Council (ICWSSC) is formed.

Growth of public, academic and commercial creation of resources (e.g. media packs, booklets, reports, research bibliographies) are seen to provide further legitimacy to debates on women and sport in the West.


International women and sport groups form from predominantly western-European, North American and Australian and New Zealand networks.

First world conference on women and sport, Brighton, UK.

The sustained lobbying of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) results in greater discussions of issues that women encounter both within the IOC and at the Olympics.



Sustained lobbying of non-sport organisations results in the recognition of women and sport and physical activity in major international (UN) and continental (Europe) declarations.

Significant IOC advances are made through actions taken to address women’s leadership in sport globally.


Advances across Asia.


Globalisation of women and sport seminars and workshops, predominantly influenced by National Olympic Committees.

African women and sport network created.


Sport increasingly used for broader development purposes in conjunction with the UN Millennium Development Goals.


First coordination of (predominantly East) Asian advances.


More IOC sub-regional seminars.

European Parliament resolution.


International Sport Federations make commitments to women and sport.

Growth of acknowledgment of 'harder' issues (e.g. sexual harassment and abuse, menstruation, reassignment, hyperandrogenism) by sports organisations after tireless work by academics and activists.


Growing awareness of the opportunities and constraints that 'sport for development' provides for women and girls.

More national, continental and global strategies for women and sport launched by sporting and non-sporting organisations.

Greater recognition of equality and equity arguments with regard to women's involvement in sport.