Alice Milliat (1884 in Nantes – 1957) was a pioneer of women's sport in France and around the world. Her lobbying on behalf of female athletes forced the inclusion of women's events in the Olympic Games.
A member of Femina Sport, a club founded in 1911, she helped form the Federation Francaise Sportive Feminine in 1917, becoming treasurer and later president. In 1921 she organized the first international women's sporting event in Monte Carlo (follow-ups in 1922 and 1923).
She is credited with igniting the pressure on the Olympic Games to allow more female representation in a broader range of sports, a process that is still ongoing today. Her name is engraved on the pediment of a gymnasium in the 14th arrondissement in Paris, thanks to her contributions to athletics.
Formation of the FSFI
Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a prominent Frenchman, is credited with reviving the Olympic Games and founding the IOC (International Olympics Committee) in 1894. 1900 was the first Olympics to allow women athletes, but only in the sports of golf and tennis. Eventually, the Olympics integrated women's swimming and other events into the games. However, track and field events for women remained conspicuously absent from the Olympics
In 1919, Milliat asked the IAAF to include women's track and field athletics events in the 1924 Olympic Games. They refused. On 31 October 1921, Milliat formed La Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) to oversee international women's sporting events. The FSFI decided to hold a Women's Olympic Games, which would include all sports, rather than the restricted number allowed to women in the official Olympics helmed by Pierre de Coubertin.
Women's World Games
The first informal iteration of the games occurred in 1921 Monte Carlo, and due to the lack of a running track, took place on a pigeon shooting field. In 1922, the experiment was revived, again in Monte Carlo. This time, 300 athletes competed, representing 7 nations
In August 1922, the first Women's Olympics were conducted in Pershing Stadium in Paris and featured five teams including the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia as well as the host country France. Eleven athletics events were conducted and the 20,000 strong crowd saw eighteen athletes break world records.
Infuriated by the use of the term 'Olympic Games' the IOC convinced Milliat and the FSFI to change the name of their event in exchange for adding 10 women's events to the 1928 Olympics. Baron Pierre De Coubertin, widely known as the man to reintroduce the Olympic Games to the modern world, was among one of the most vocal opponents to women's participation in the games
As such, the next edition of the event, held in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1926, was termed the Women's World Games. Ten teams took part in this edition of the Games. The Olympic Games and de Coubertin, due to pressure from the FSFI, eventually integrated five women's track and field events into the Olympics in 1928. However, to Milliat, this was not enough, since men were allowed to compete in 22 events. The British women's team boycotted the Amsterdam games for the same reason.
Two further Games were held in Prague in 1930 (featuring other sports in addition to athletics) and in London in 1934. After these games, Milliat issued an ultimatum: fully integrate the 1936 Olympics, or cede all women's participation to the FSFI. This led the IAAF to appoint a special commission to cooperate with the FSFI, which ceded control of international women's athletics to the IAAF in exchange for an expanded program and a recognition of records set in the Women's Games.
To this day, the Olympics does not offer an equal slate of men's and women's sports. However, Milliat's pressure greatly expanded women's representation at the Olympics. In a 1934 interview, Milliat said:
"Women's sports of all kinds are handicapped in my country by the lack of playing space. As we have no vote, we can not make our needs publicly felt, or bring pressure to bear in the right quarters. I always tell my girls that the vote is one of the things they will have to work for if France is to keep its place with the other nations in the realm of feminine sport."
Milliat was once married for four years and was then widowed. She had no children.
In 1920 Milliat assembled a football (Soccer) team of women from Paris that toured the UK and played the Dick, Kerr's Ladies on behalf of France in the world first internationally recognised Women's Football tournament.
Women's Suffrage in France
In 1934 Milliat spoke to an interviewer from the Women's Magazine "Independent Woman." In her statement, she advocated for women's suffrage in France. She believed women's suffrage would lead to greater support for women's sports.
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