No one familiar with the authoritarian history of national and international sports federations will have been shocked by the forcible kiss that upended the politics of Spanish soccer at the conclusion of the recent Women’s Football World Cup.
In one grotesque act of male appropriation, the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation planted an unwanted kiss on the mouth of the football star Jenni Hermoso after Spain’s World Cup victory. This tradition of male arrogance and misogyny has long infected the comically corrupt FIFA, football’s world governing body, and has been embedded in the mindset of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for the past century.
Breaking this male monopoly will require the heroic efforts of extraordinary women empowered by dramatic and unpredictable events.
The IOC recently saluted International Women’s Day but has imposed a strictly male authoritarian order since its founding in 1894. Every IOC president has been a white European man except for Avery Brundage (1952-1972), who was a white American man with European sympathies. The fact that no woman has ever come close to being elected to the presidency of the IOC is not even controversial. IOC President Thomas Bach’s long history of making accommodations for Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping have attracted some critical attention, but the male autocracy that has always run the IOC has not been on anyone’s reform agenda.
Among the dozens of international sports federations that operate under the aegis of the IOC, only one has a female president: World Triathlon, previously known as the International Triathlon Union (Marisol Casado). Two other women head the World Underwater Federation (Anna Arzhanova) and the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (Helen Lundberg).
This is marginalization with a vengeance that has never provoked audible criticism from the women who have been admitted to the Olympic family. Female Olympic careers reach, and eventually expire on, the IOC’s 15-member Executive Board. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the Spanish fascist who was IOC president from 1980 to 2001, liked to induct women as royal ornaments, such as Princess Nora of Liechtenstein in 1984 and the Princess Royal Anne in 1985, the equestrian and sister of King Charles of England. But Samaranch made sure that his successor was a European man.
How has the IOC patriarchy outlasted the successive waves of feminism that have swept the globe?
To understand the unbroken male domination, look no further than the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, the “Nazi Olympics” that were made possible in part by an ideological compatibility between the IOC elite and the Nazis, based on a shared ideal of aristocratic manhood and a value system that derived from their glorification of the physically perfect male as the ideal human being.
The male ideology that united the Olympians and the Nazis during the 1930s was a code of virility whose misogynistic legacy persists to this day. Its perverse effects are a major source of the massive amount of abuse, sexual and otherwise, that permeates elite sports around the world.
The next step will be for celebrated sportswomen to elevate their struggle beyond the removal of a randy Spanish boor. They must take on the relentless propaganda operation that has allowed the IOC to preserve its men’s club while convincing the world it is a promoter of women’s rights and diplomat that collaborates with tyrants to preserve world peace.
John Hoberman is a professor at The University of Texas at Austin and the author of “The Olympic Crisis: Sport, Politics, and the Moral Order.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American-Statesman and the San Antonio Express News.