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Tokyo Olympics set to break gender equality record

IOC says percentage of female athletes competing at Olympics in Japan expected to rise to nearly 49 per cent from 34 per cent in 1996

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The IOC has also announced it will have full gender representation across all 206 teams and change its rules to allow one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony.

New York

THE Tokyo 2020 Olympics is on track for a new record - having an almost equal number of female and male athletes for the first time, the International Committee (IOC) announced on Tuesday.

The percentage of female athletes competing at the Olympics in Japan in July is expected to rise to nearly 49 per cent - from 34 per cent in 1996, according to a statement from the IOC. The IOC said it is committed to reaching full gender parity for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

"It has been more of a marathon than a sprint, but female Olympians are at last catching their male counterparts in the numbers game," the IOC said in a statement.

The announcement is part of the international sports organisation's greater push for women's rights.

Earlier this month, the IOC announced that it will have full gender representation across all 206 teams and change its rules to allow one male and one female athlete to jointly carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony.

It has also taken a leadership role in the United Nations' Women's Sports For Generation Equality Initiative, which aims to advance gender equality in and through sports.

Women's advocacy groups applauded the IOC move.

"When it comes to equity and inclusion in sports, the world has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," said the Women's Sports Foundation, a non-profit focused on female involvement in sports.

"The IOC's announcement is warranted and encouraging; it signals great progress toward the ultimate goal of full equality in the Olympic Games, which continues to be a long journey."

But news of gender equality milestones were marred by growing concerns over whether the Tokyo Olympics will be postponed or even cancelled as world health officials advise against large gatherings in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan has nearly 1,300 cases of the virus, resulting in 16 deaths as of Wednesday. Globally there are around 120,000 confirmed cases and over 4,300 deaths.

Olympic organisers dismissed speculation that the Tokyo Summer Games could be cancelled at a briefing last week.

However, the torch lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia, Greece, will be held without spectators after organisers on Monday introduced tighter measures to protect against the virus. REUTERS