Women in Sport – Inspirational Models That Robots Cannot Replace
The volume Women’s Strength in Sport coordinated by Andreea Paul appeared this fall at the Polirom Publishing House in Iași. It is the fourth volume in the series The Force of women in ... that Andreea Paul has delivered, thus filling the information gaps in the Romanian publishing market, but especially gaps in the collective mind of a deeply patriarchal society, despite the signs of change that have become increasingly obvious lately. Andreea Paul represents this change mainly through her efforts embodied in the Polirom series. And sure enough, as it often happens in life, the spark that set off the efforts of a small but brave team of volunteers was ignited by a simple question of the author’s daughter, a simple question that even ChatGPT couldn’t answer.
“How many Olympic medals have Romanian women managed to win over time?” Once again, a good question proves to be more effective than any sophisticated answer.
The first volume of the series, Women’s Political Power, appeared in 2011, followed in 2016 by Women’s Economic Power and in 2018 by Women’s Civic Power, all published in the “EgoGrafii” collection of the Polirom Publishing House. The present volume, Women’s Strength in Sport, happily complements editor Andreea Paul’s efforts to draw attention in an informed and at the same time concerned and sensitive way to what most of us probably see and feel is happening in the Romanian post-December 1989 society: the ever-accelerating decline of education and sports. In other words, this volume represents a necessary, useful, and, at the same time, entertaining new book that finds the necessary balance so as not to bore the reader in an activist and partisan way. A book that is hard to put down once you’ve opened it.
The book is structured into three parts, Romanian Sportswomen, Coaches, Sports Journalists, followed by several Annexes and preceded by a Note on the edition and an Introduction both written by the editor. What is modestly called a Note on this Edition is, beyond the usual thanks specific to such a section, an eloquent introduction to the issues of the volume raising questions that only careful and laborious research could formulate. Of course, Andreea Paul also gives us the arguments regarding the need for such a book here. The full title of the Introduction is The first participation of women in the Olympic Games and the first medal in 1900 and places the situation of Romanian sportswomen in a wider international context.
There will probably be some voices (there always are) who will say that such a book is pointless – women now have equal rights with men, and as such, what are we talking about? For those who think like that, and especially for the young women and men who were born with the idea of gender equality socially and theoretically accepted by almost everyone, it is good to remind them that in 1896 Pierre de Coubertin, the one who re-initiated The Modern Olympic Games, said that in such an event “women’s participation lacks pragmatism, is uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect” (A.P., p. 11) because "no matter how tough an athlete she is, her body is not meant to withstand certain shocks" .
And to better understand the struggle of women for admission and recognition in sports, the story of Stamata Revithi is emblematic and impressive. Revithi was a Greek woman who was forbidden to compete in the 40 km marathon in 1896 only because she was a woman. Nevertheless, Revithi started the race a day after the “official” men’s event, taking care to have documents to prove her times of departure and of arrival. However, she was not allowed to enter the Panathinaiko Stadium where the marathon was supposed to finish, nor was her result officially recognized, although her case enjoyed justified media coverage. (A.P., p. 11) and .
Andrea Paul’s background as an economist, as well as her remarkable ease of putting complex ideas and situations into plain, but forceful, words make her paint a vivid, sensitive picture of the contribution of Romanian women to the country’s sport records also based on accurate figures. Starting from the very beginning from the healthy idea that the successes of a nation must be analyzed and appreciated without the easy temptation of resorting to ideology, Andreea Paul informs us without arrogance, but with justified pride, that of the 309 Olympic medals won by Romanians over time, 156 were obtained by women and 153 by men. And only together, because it is important to be together and not separated by all kinds of memes and trends, can we contribute to the correct image of our country first among ourselves to regain our own dignity and respect, but also in front of the international world which knows little and not always good things about us. The volume that Andreea Paul offers us comes to correct these shortcomings.
To conclude the overview of this volume, it is important to say that the first part dedicated to Romanian Sportswomen includes an impressive number of 72 sportswomen who either responded to interviews or were evoked by those who knew them. The second part refers to Coaches, although it is of course a relatively arbitrary division, since some of the heroines included in these sections playing both roles, includes eight coaches, the same number as in the Sports Journalists section. Finally, the Annexes include two very interesting materials about the Romanian medalists at the Olympic Games (with the discipline and competition event in which they won, the type of medal and the year of their performance) as well as women representatives of the national sports federations in the international sports organizations. These two annexes were drawn up by the coordinator of the volume together with the Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee (COSR).
The other two annexes represent the thoughts of Carol-Eduard Novák on “Romanian sport has a new strategy” and of Mihai Covaliu on “Female strength”. The two not only hold top positions in the country’s sports institutions, but had solid sports careers themselves. Their contributions to this volume are motivational for new generations of Romanians and for anyone interested in the importance of sport for the physical and mental well-being of people and the country. As Andreea Paul says at the end of her Note on this edition “when women progress, countries progress, and when sports activism increases, nations prosper”.
Carol-Eduard Novák believes that women’s successes are all the more special as they are harder to achieve than men’s, because they have to constantly juggle multiple responsibilities. And they manage to do this through the “responsibility” they show. “They are more mentally resilient, but also more empathetic. This is where their strength comes from. Feminine strength, in sports and beyond.” (A.P., p. 391)
Read the book – it will fascinate you! Read the many success stories based not on magic, not on life in the metaverse, not on the recipes and training in various video games (they are useful, but in moderation) but on the passion that children and their parents have identified together, on the initial fun, and as the attraction and love for the sport grows, on the discipline and constant effort to push your limits, to become better, to support a larger or smaller community through your efforts. In other words, sport helps you become the leader of your own life.
Photo source: pxhere.com.
Andreea Paul, 2023, Forța femeilor în sport, Editura Polirom, Colecția EGO-GRAFII