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Sports play a vital role in promoting gender equality, says Olympic medallist, basketball star and IOC Member​,​ Pau Gasol


27 Mar 2023 – Sport reflects society. But it can also lead, setting a powerful and very visible example for behaviours, standards and values. As Gender Equality month wraps up, Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol reflects on the ability of sport to promote equality, break stereotypes and help girls pursue their dreams and goals.

“Sport is the mirror through which so many people look at themselves,” he says.

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“Thus, it must function as a tool to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and the Olympic Games are the perfect place to do so,” says the three-time Olympic medallist and winner of two NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers (2009 and 2010).

Addressing stereotypes and unconscious bias

Stereotypes and unconscious biases are a major obstacle that often prevents our societies from becoming more equal and inclusive.

“From a young age, we receive inputs of information and generalisations that create a distorted image of reality in our minds. It gives rise to the creation of stereotypes or unconscious prejudices that are present in all aspects of our lives,” Gasol says.

“These stereotypes often become stones in the road for many people, especially vulnerable groups and minorities,” he adds. “(But) values such as empathy, tolerance, respect, and embracing and enhancing diversity can help us to overcome these prejudices.”

One of the greatest European basketball players of all time, Gasol says his own journey on gender equality began with his parents, since his mother was a doctor and his father was a nurse.

“I remember how people would often mistake my father as the doctor and my mum as the nurse — it happened more often than it should have,” Gasol says. “I’ve never once thought of my mum as a ‘female’ doctor. To me, she has always just been a doctor.”

An amazing coach, who happens to be a phenomenal woman

This perspective on gender equality stayed with Gasol throughout his sports career.

“We need to give an equal path and opportunity to everyone, based on merits and not gender,” he says.

During three seasons at the San Antonio Spurs, Gasol benefitted from the skills and abilities of his assistant coach, Becky Hammon.

“I have had the great fortune to be coached by an amazing coach and person, who also happens to be a phenomenal woman,” he says. “Her exceptional professional career, full of successes and many challenges and obstacles, is an inspiration to me and many others. It was great to have her as a coaching staff member,” Gasol adds.

While men and women now compete in equal numbers at the Olympic Games, the number of female coaches is still extremely low. At Tokyo 2020, just 13 per cent of the coaches were women, for example.

To increase the number of female coaches, the IOC has been accelerating its Women in Sport High-performance pathway programme (WISH). Backed by USD 1 million in Olympic Solidarity funding, the programme will prepare over 100 women for coaching at the elite level.

Showing younger generations they can be whatever they want to be

Gasol says there are many possible reasons for the lack of female coaches.

“I don’t think you can say it’s because of just one thing. Definitely the lack of visibility of that 13 per cent is one of the reasons, and the fact that it’s not discussed enough is another,” he says.

“All of us in the world of sports have a responsibility toward the younger generations: to show them that they can be whatever they want to be,” Gasol says. “T his begins by shedding light on the journey of all those who have achieved their dreams , and what we can do to improve the present and work for a better future. ”

In recent months, the IOC has launched an online series highlighting elite female coaches, who, despite the obstacles, have made it to the top and are carving a path for others to follow. It aims to inspire young women at the start of their careers.

Gender is not a determining factor

Elected by his peers in Tokyo to become a member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Gasol also became an IOC Member in August 2021. Asked what improvements could be made to get more female coaches into international sporting events, Gasol says that attitudes need to change.

“I think it all starts with the respect of male colleagues, and the recognition by everyone that gender is not a determining factor when it comes to being a good coach. If we want more girls to aspire to be coaches, events must include women coaches who can describe their experience and contribute their vision in the sector,” he says.

Gasol, who recently received the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award for his significant contribution to the advancement of girls’ and women’s basketball, encourages girls to strive for their goals, no matter what: “Girls should pursue their dreams and goals, whatever those are. I want them to focus on their abilities and develop them without letting anyone limit their potential.”

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