Jury's out on support for athlete mums
Rugby judicial officer Wang welcomes Tokyo as first gender-balanced Games, but reserves judgment on whether 'current structures support women fully'
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) touted Tokyo 2020 as "the first gender-balanced Olympic Games in history".
While some of the statistics offer Wang Shao-Ing cause for hope, she is reserving judgment on whether "the current structures support women fully".
The former national rugby player and coach, who was in the Japanese capital as a judicial officer for the rugby sevens competition - ruling on disciplinary cases for foul play - noticed improvements in representation compared to her maiden Olympics at Rio 2016.
The IOC said 48.8 per cent of all athletes at the July 23 to Aug 8 Games were women.
China, who finished second in the medal tally with 38 golds, one behind the United States, led the way with 69 per cent of their 433-person contingent being women.
Wang, 44, who is the team lead of Sport Singapore's safe sport taskforce, was formerly on the Singapore National Olympic Council's Women In Sport Committee and has been an official on the biggest stages of international rugby, told The New Paper: "That's pretty neat in terms of representation.
"However, beyond the numbers, there is an increase in the profiles of women who are mothers competing in their sport at the highest level.
"It's not yet clear from the stories that have emerged from these Games if the current structures support women fully in aspects such as postpartum qualification and the ability to have infants accompanying their athlete mums who breastfeed and/or are primary caregivers.
"The pandemic has only amplified these issues and it would be interesting to know if these factors have been considered and catered for in sporting structures and systems."
In Tokyo, there were several high-profile athletes who returned to competition after giving birth, including two-time Women's World Cup winner Alex Morgan and Allyson Felix - the most decorated female track-and-field exponent of all time.
Few have done more for mothers in sport than seven-time Olympic gold medallist Felix, who created a US$200,000 (S$271,400) childcare fund for athletes who are mothers.
She also famously stood up to sportswear behemoth Nike in 2019 for reducing sponsorship compensation after she became pregnant and had a baby.
An Olympics that took place during a global pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for athlete-mothers.
Outspoken figures such as Morgan, marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk, basketball player Kim Gaucher and archer Naomi Folkard forced the IOC to reverse its rules to allow nursing children to travel to Tokyo.
However, with most events having taken place behind closed doors and strict rules on competitors and their entourage, the children had to stay in "approved hotels" outside of the Olympic Village.
Spanish artistic swimmer Ona Carbonell, an Olympic silver and bronze medallist, did not bring her almost one-year-old son Kai, whom she is breastfeeding, to Tokyo, saying the rules were impractical.
She said: "They wouldn't be allowed to leave the hotel room during the 20-ish days I'd be in Tokyo.
"For me to go and breastfeed Kai whenever he needs it, during the day I would have to leave the Olympic villa, the team's bubble, and go to their hotel, risking my team's health."
While Wang, who practised law for 10 years, is reserving judgment on the support system for women athletes at the Olympics, she was much surer about Tokyo's performance as hosts.
She said: "The local Japanese officials and volunteers have gone over and beyond to deliver the event for the athletes who have worked so hard to be here and for the fans watching the Games at home.
"Anyone who was at the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan would know that if any country had to pull off the Games during a global pandemic, Japan would be in the mix of those nations that had the capacity to do so.
"The level of organisation and enthusiasm of its volunteers is just astounding and admirable."