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Is Australia’s 2021 Olympic Games athletics team representative of fair World Athletics gender qualification standards?

By Chris Lewis - posted Friday, 16 July 2021

With female athletes making up a record 53.5% (254 of 472) of the Australian Olympic Team for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games as a proportion of the team (254 of 472), I was interested to see how fair the selection criteria has been for Australia’s athletics team given that the 63 strong athletics team also comprises 35 women and 28 men.

While World Athletics has introduced a new world ranking system for qualification to the Tokyo, with rankings based on the average of the best five results for the athlete over the qualifying period (roughly from early 2019 to 29 June 2021, I assess selection fairness by comparing the qualifying times for men and women against the best world performers of previous years.

The following table, which focuses on the individual track and field events, compares the qualifying standards (QS) set by World Athletics against the best standards achieved by world athletes from 2016 to 2018.   


Column 1 lists the qualified Australian athletes and events.

Column 2 lists the qualifying standard set by World Athletics.

Column 3 lists the 10th best world performance from 2016 to 2018 with the qualifying standard (in brackets) listed as a percentage of the performance.

Column 4 lists the 25th best world performance from 2016 to 2018 with the qualifying standard (in brackets) listed as a percentage of the performance.

A percentage above 100% means that the qualifying standard is inferior to the 10th and 25th ranking, while a percentage below 100% means that the qualifying standard is superior.  

While the running events tend to have a higher percentage than the field events when compared to the 25th best world performance in column 4, this is because many more athletes are required for running events which have heats, semis and finals in most events, whereas field events are much more limited in number.


Hence, some of the field events will have a lower figure than 100% as it is even tougher than the 25th ranked performance from 2016 to 2018 and helps explain why Australians did not qualify in many throwing events.

The following table excludes the marathon (6 competitors) and walking events (seven competitors), and the four additional female athletes selected for Australia’s only relay team (4x400m),

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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