Women set to outnumber men for Team GB at next Olympics for first time

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• BOA believes history will be made in next year’s selection
• Investment and IOC’s gender balance pledge among reasons

Triple European champion Dina Asher-Smith is among the women for whom there are high hopes in Tokyo.
 Triple European champion Dina Asher-Smith is among the women for whom there are high hopes in Tokyo. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

The British Olympic Association is expecting to make history by selecting more women than men for next year’s Olympics, the Guardian can reveal. With 500 days to go before the Tokyo Games, internal Team GB data strongly indicates that for the first time women athletes will make up the majority of the squad.

Britain sent 164 women and 202 men as part of a 366-strong team for the Rio Olympics. However, a combination of factors, including heavy investment in women’s sport, the strength of the Britain women’s football team and the International Olympic Committee’s move towards gender balance, means BOA chiefs are confident history will be made in Tokyo.

The Team GB chef de mission, Mark England, told the Guardian that, while most athletes still had to qualify for their events, their internal data based on world rankings and recent performances suggested that around 370 British athletes would be selected – the majority of whom would be women.

“All indications are that it will happen for the first time, which will be wonderful,” he said. “It speaks to the strength of the high-performance system and the investment that has been made across all the national governing bodies over the last 20 years.

“There really has been a concerted effort to focus attention on equality and opportunity for all to ensure we send a team that is reflective of a modern Britain.”

England, – who also oversaw the athlete delegation in Rio, where Team GB became the first nation to win more medals at the Games immediately after hosting a home Olympics – said another factor was the high number of successful athletes in past Olympics that had encouraged the current generation.

“It is tremendously pleasing to see the success of women that have come through our system,” he added. “The strength and pedigree of those female athletes has been awe-inspiring and they have been tremendous role models for future generations.”

It also reflects a change in emphasis from the IOC, whose president, Thomas Bach, has promised that the Tokyo Olympics would be “more youthful, more urban and include more women” as part of plans to bring the Games closer to having a 50/50 representation of men and women.

Six international federations – canoeing, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting and weightlifting – have confirmed they will move to gender balance for the first time in Tokyo, while BMX racing, mountain bike and freestyle wrestling will hold the same amount of disciplines for men and women.

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