DURBAN, South Africa -- It was at the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 1984 that Joan Benoit ran away with the first women's Olympic marathon and smashed stereotypes. Now, 27 years later, only three of the more than 200 national Olympic committees taking part in the opening ceremony of the Summer Games have not yet sent female competitors, the head of the International Olympic Committee's women and sport commission said Friday. The Middle Eastern states of Brunei, Saudi Arabia and Qatar remain the holdouts, a dramatic improvement from as recently as 1996 and Atlanta, when 26 nations sent no women, Anita DeFrantz told the IOC's session, its annual general assembly. "I do believe in the name and shame strategy," IOC president Jacques Rogge said, adding a moment later, "I think it's very effective."
With female boxers in the ring, every one of the 26 sports on the program at the 2012 London Games will see women competing, DeFrantz, the senior American representative to the IOC, also said.
That's the good news.
And a little bit more:
Just 23 percent of the athletes at the 1984 Los Angeles Games were women. In Beijing in 2008: 43 percent.
At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games: 40 percent. At the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games: 46 percent.
Now for the challenges off the field, which remain considerable:
The numbers of women on decision-making boards in some significant cases have not changed much, and for that reason DeFrantz and other commission leaders -- amid planning for a major conference on women-in-sport issues next February in Los Angeles -- remain "deeply concerned."
Such concerns extend to the IOC itself as well as to boards of both national Olympic committees and international sports federations, DeFrantz said.
The 15-member IOC executive board now lists only one woman: Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco. A vote Saturday will see the election of a second, Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden.
Only 16 percent of the more than 100 IOC members are female. The IOC management team includes no women, according to a report presented by DeFrantz's commission to the session.
National Olympic committees in Bermuda, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and the United States report their boards include women at participation levels of 40 percent or more.
Such information, DeFrantz said, comes from a survey the commission sent out, adding that only 81 of the NOCs filled it out. That means roughly two-thirds of the committees in the world didn't even bother.
The Australian Olympic Committee issued a release that noted it sent a team to Vancouver made up of 20 male athletes and 20 female athletes but its executive committee includes only two women, AOC president John Coates calling that a "long way short of ideal" and urging his member governing bodies to propose electable female board members at the next AOC board vote, in 2013.
As for the international federations: soccer, boxing, weightlifting, canoe/kayak, handball, archery, shooting, rugby, cycling and bobsled have no women on their executive boards, DeFrantz said.
That's nine summer and one winter sport federations -- and soccer, of course, is the sport that carries the farthest global reach.
In some cases, the reasons for no women at the board level may be fairly clear-cut.
In others, it may be more nuanced, as C.K. Wu, the head of the international boxing federation, which goes by the acronym AIBA, told the assembly.
Wu, who is an innovative and progressive Olympic administrator, said AIBA has been trying since 2007 to recruit qualified women to its board.
It all starts, he said, at the grass-roots. Women's referees and judges now officiate at bouts. Women are being appointed as technical delegates.
Even so, he cautioned, the issue ought not be reduced to simply a numbers game.
It's not enough, he said, to just put a woman on the board -- she must be qualified, and while any and all qualified candidates would be welcomed, they must be identified and nominated by their home country federations and the elections conducted appropriately.
"To build up [female] leadership takes time," Wu said. "It also takes a lot of effort."