Lessons from the Paris 1900 Olympics on women that Middle East countries should learn
Farzad Youshanlou
July 10, 2024

In the 1900 Paris Olympics, women broke taboos and participated for the first time in the Olympic Games. Out of 997 athletes, 22 were women, competing in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism, and golf. Among them, Hélène de Pourtalès from Switzerland in sailing and Charlotte Cooper from Britain in tennis became the first female gold medalists in Olympic history.

Pierre de Coubertin, the President of the International Olympic Committee during the 1900 Paris Games, is considered the founder of the modern Olympic Games. Born into an aristocratic family in Paris in January 1863, he had a deep interest in history but was profoundly influenced by the British school system. Recognizing the educational value of sports, he laid the foundation for the modern Olympics. Inspired by the ancient Greek Olympic Games, De Coubertin believed that sports could play a crucial role in uniting people worldwide and educating individuals.


The 1894 Congress at the Sorbonne University in Paris, driven by Pierre de Coubertin’s efforts, led to the formation of the International Olympic Committee, and subsequently, the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. His emphasis on amateurism, fair play, and the joy of effort remains fundamental principles in the current Olympic Charter. Pierre de Coubertin passed away in 1937 in Geneva, Switzerland.

More than a century after the 1900 Paris Olympics, women participate in numerous sports disciplines on an equal footing with men and enjoy equal rights in the Olympic Games. Under the presidency of Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee has made commendable efforts to expand and develop this trend globally. However, women in the Middle East still face systematic gender discrimination in many sports.


A statistical review reveals the extent to which women in Middle Eastern countries are deprived of participating in the Olympics.

In the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, only one female athlete from Syria and Iraq competed. The number of female athletes from Qatar, Lebanon, Kuwait, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia was two, Pakistan had three, Jordan had four, and Iran had ten. Notably, the United Arab Emirates had no female participants in the 2020 Olympics.

In the 2016 Rio Olympics, despite the absence of the global pandemic, the conditions for female athletes in the Middle East showed no significant improvement.

In contrast, the situation in Turkey and Israel is markedly different. Forty-nine female athletes from Turkey and thirty-four from Israel competed in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Latest News