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February 13, 2016
The question of quotas: Is #AIPSsoMale?

The Women in Sport panel at the 79th AIPS Congress, led by Vice President Laima Janusonyte-Steinhoff that included Azadeh Pirakouh of Iran, Janine Gaigele, the President of the Switzerland Sports Press and Kristi Kirsberg, the President of Estonia Sports Press (Photo: AIPS/Carlo Pozzoni)
by Frederikke Amalie Muff, AIPS Young Reporter, Denmark

DOHA, February 13, 2016 - AIPS and the Oscar Academy, sports journalists and the world’s leading actors and actresses all currently have at least one thing in common these days: The hot topic of quotas.

When the Oscar nominations were announced on January 14th without a single actor or actress of colour in the four acting categories on the list, internet forums and social media exploded, raging against the lack of diversity, using hashtag #OscarsSoWhite as fuel.

In Doha, though under a burning sun, the ever present indoor air condition at the AIPS congress keeps any fires away. But here too, thousands of kilometres from the American film industry, another quota question has taken up space: Is AIPS “too male”?

The Sports Journalists Association of Kenya brought a proposal to the 79th congress suggesting an amendment to article 12 section one, ensuring the election of at least one female in the Executive Committee, which currently holds three women.

Two continents without women

In Kenya, three of eight members are female, explained Evelyn Watta, outgoing Interim Secretary General, member of the AIPS Executive Committe and Treasurer in the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya, but this tendency is not reflected on the boards on a continental level, which lead to Kenya making the proposal.

“Besides Europe [which currently holds two women],” she said. “Asia has not a single woman. America has no woman, and unfortunately for America, we couldn’t even find a [female] delegate to invite to attend the congress,” said Watta.

Doha was also the scene for gender discussions in 2015, where a “Women In Sport Media Workshop” was held by the Qatar Olympic Committee, the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia. This workshop lead amongst other things to a recommendation of establishing a minimum target of women’s presence in Executive Committees of National Sports Press Associations affiliated to AIPS.

Nevertheless when the topic was raised once more, the question of implementing a quota remained a mere question in Qatar. While the board of governors at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science felt the heat and quickly approved of a string of changes to bring in more women and minorities amongst their over 6000 voters, Kenya’s proposal was rejected on a 48 against 19 vote.

Delegates reported that they were confused by the way the vote was conducted and unsure of the nature of the paragraph. AIPS President Gianni Merlo, however, denied this.

“This is a very good excuse. We have spoken for more than one hour. How can people be confused about the proposal?” he said, and pointed out that the timing for the proposal seemed wrong, as it suggested a minimum, which was lower than the current amount of women on the Executive Committee.

“Nobody wants to be a ‘quota woman’ ”

Watta too think it was an issue of timing albeit of different kind:

“We probably rushed it through. The members are still not ready it and even the women themselves, we women, were not ready for it, because we still feel like men would feel that we’re getting on to the Executive [committee, ed.] because we’re wearing skirts,” she said.

However, while there are plenty of women on the red carpets of the Oscars, one has to look far to find a female delegate amongst the 230 delegates when walking on the fluffy creme coloured carpets at the congress. Lisa Edwinsson, delegate of Sweden, thinks that change is needed within the AIPS.

“In general I’m against quotas, because no woman wants to be a “quota woman”, we want to be elected for our qualifications and have the same rights as our male colleagues. But in order to make that change, it could be a good system, at least temporary,” Edwinsson said.

Andreas Kraul, president of the Danish Sports Journalist Association, too thinks that a change of attitude is needed, but does not believe that quotas are the way to go.

“By principle I’m against quotas. I don’t think a woman should be elected to the Executive Committee because she’s a woman, she should be elected because she is skilled and wants to do good for AIPS and sports journalism,” he said.

Merlo admits that AIPS needs to find a solution to give women more space, so their presence at the congress will be more normal in the future, but he too wants to focus on qualifications rather than gender.

“We need more effective people,” said Merlo, who is the only man at the AIPS office.

Watta is not convinced:

“I look at it this way: The men are still stuck on “look, if a woman if coming here, she must be worth her soul”. And the women say “we are worth our souls and we don’t need any quotas”, but then the situation that is actually on ground is different: Irrespective of their qualities, they are still not getting nominations,” she said and pointed towards that less than ten female delegates attended the congress.

Thus the scene is set for the dilemma of quotas. The wish to be recognized for qualifications instead of gender on one hand, the challenge of seeing a mental shift making that possible on the other. While the changes made by the Oscar Academy will come into effect from next year, the question of how more women will be able to take the stage at AIPS remains.

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