By: Sarah Ball

The athletes of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games were the least racially diverse in recent Olympic history.[1] The Olympic Charter, published in 2021 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), lists several Fundamental Principles of Olympism.[2] The sixth Fundamental Principle promises that the “enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth [in the Charter] shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.”[3] However, in the 2018 Winter Olympics, only 1.45 percent, or forty-three, of the total 2,952 athletes at the Games were Black. [4] In the 2022 Winter Olympics, the U.S. Olympic Team sent seven athletes that identified as Black.[5] These numbers are in stark contrast to the racial diversity in the Summer Olympics.[6] Specifically, the U.S. sent 128 athletes to the 2021 Summer Olympics — which is eighteen times more Black athletes than the mere seven athletes the U.S. sent just six months later to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The pervasive lack of racial diversity at the Winter Olympics reflects a failure on the part of the IOC to uphold its own charter. The inequity in racial diversity between the Summer and Winter Olympics also paints a picture of inequitable access to the sports affiliated with the Winter Games. The lack of diversity at the Winter Olympic Games stems from inaccessibility at the youth and developmental levels. Winter sports are substantially more expensive to participate in, and youth and developmental winter sports organizations are doing very little to accommodate aspiring athletes who are impoverished.[7]

Financial accessibility is arguably the main barrier to racial diversity in winter sports.[8] Unlike most summer sports, where beginner athletes need almost no gear to start a pick-up game of basketball or race against others in a track meet, beginner athletes in winter sports need to make huge financial investments in gear and membership costs prior to participation.[9] Beginner athletes will only be able to participate in winter sports after they purchase the requisite gear. Because winter sports operate primarily on this pay-to-play basis, families living in poverty are unlikely to have their children involved in costly winter sports.[10]

Currently, amateur ice hockey costs the average family about $2,600 a year.[11] Skiing and snowboarding cost the average family about $2,200 a year.[12] The average lift ticket to access a ski and snowboard mountain costs $122. A new monobob sled costs about $45,000 to purchase. At the elite level, figure skaters spend upwards of $50,000 a year.[13] The unconscionable costs of competing at elite levels for winter and summer sports alike are not a newfound issue. In 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of financial compensation for college athletes in NCAA v. Alston.[14] However, this decision does little to help athletes at both youth developmental levels and the Olympic level.

Despite the high costs of participating in winter sports at youth and developmental levels, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act requires amateur sports organizations to provide an equal opportunity to amateur athletes to participate in amateur athletic competitions before they can become certified amateur sports organizations.[15] The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act was created to build an organized structure to regulate certified amateur sports organizations. The Act expressly commits to providing an equal opportunity to athletes from all backgrounds, but amateur sports organizations are doing little to ensure all aspiring athletes are financially able to participate.[16]

Given the financial inaccessibility of youth winter sports, it is unsurprising there is also a pervasive lack of racial diversity at the elite level. There are very few Black athletes training for winter sports at the Olympic level at any given time.[17]Membership in the U.S. Ski Team is more than 99% white and only 2% of the U.S. Figure Skating team is Black.[18] The extreme lack of diversity at the Olympic-training level reflects a symptom of the core problem: winter sports are unaffordable for the majority of Americans.

On the international front, the IOC is exacerbating the racial inequality and inaccessibility issues in winter sports. The IOC claims it aims to make success at the Games achievable for everyone and allocates a substantial portion of the profit derived from the Games to athletes and coaches through individual National Olympic Committees (NOCs) as part of the Olympic Solidarity Plan to help athletes and coaches from countries with the greatest financial need.[19] However, the IOC’s actions are disingenuous to their promises. For example, just before the 2022 Winter Olympics, the IOC abruptly ended a continental quota system for the “sliding sports” that it had used to increase representation from African countries in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.[20] The IOC provided very little explanation for canceling its quota program for the 2022 Olympics, but the consequence of its decision was displayed at the 2022 Games when representation from African countries decreased as compared to their showing in 2018.[21]

Even when African countries and athletes decide to take advantage of the IOC’s opportunities and apply for financial support from the IOC, they are unlikely to be successful. In practice, the IOC’s scholarship program with NOCs fails to support the most underserved athletes in winter sports. 429 athletes from 80 NOCs were awarded scholarships ahead of Beijing to support qualification efforts.[22] Despite its claimed mission, European athletes were given nearly 70% of the 429 scholarships and African athletes were only awarded around 4%.[23] Further, only NOCs “whose athletes had a proven winter sports track record” have access to the program.[24] As a result, any new athletes hoping to make their debut in winter sports were unable to access the funding they arguably needed more than established athletes.

More hypocritically, James Macleod, IOC Director of Olympic Solidarity and National Olympic Committees Relations expressly recognized that summer sports are more accessible than winter sports, but that that’s “not something that us at the IOC are going to change.”[25] This statement by Macleod is hard to square with the IOC’s Fundamental Principles, which promise to make the Olympic Games accessible to all aspiring athletes across the globe.[26] Macleod noted that African countries lack the infrastructure to participate in winter sports and that the IOC will not use its resources to unilaterally invest in infrastructural improvements in those same countries. Instead, Macleod says the burden falls on national governments to decide what opportunities the country will take advantage of.[27]

Still, when athletes from African countries seek the IOC’s financial support through their NOC program, they are repeatedly rejected. If the IOC takes its commitment to equal opportunity and representation in the Olympic Games, it needs to grant more of its financial resources to groundbreaking athletes in developing countries who lack the resources to either create competitive training facilities for their athletes or to sponsor athletes who wish to train abroad. The NOCs must stop being given to predominantly affluent countries and athletes in Europe and the United States. In addition, the IOC should reinstate its quota for its Winter Games to be intentionally inclusive for countries that are consistently underrepresented at the Winter Olympics.

At the local youth sports level, there are a multitude of solutions the international community can take to make winter sports more accessible. In winter sports especially, there are a lack of youth development programs that mitigate financial barriers to participation for underserved communities. However, there are a couple of positive examples of small organizations creating financial accessibility to winter sports. EDGE Outdoors is a Seattle-based nonprofit created to address the invisibility of Black, Indigenous, Women of Color in snow sports.[28] Winter4Kids is a New Jersey-based nonprofit that introduces children in the metro New York area to Alpine and Nordic skiing and snowboarding.[29] EDGE provides scholarships for training and coaching and Winter4Kids provides transportation, coaching, and equipment to its participants.[30]

Another way to increase youth accessibility to winter sports could be for communities to reuse old and discarded gear for new athletes so sports can be played without requiring athletes to spend thousands of dollars beforehand. Additionally, after-school community-based groups could arrange ski and snowboard trips for young kids at a discounted cost, while also providing gear for the participants. Since the after-school sports budget varies between school districts, a combined community program for intramural sports would encourage students from more impoverished schools to participate in the same activities as their wealthier counterparts. More accessibility to after-school intramural sports serves a dual purpose of keeping kids safe after school.

Representation matters; youth athletes are unlikely to participate in sports they do not see themselves represented in. Participation in sports improves outcomes for the youth of communities that are underserved.[31] So no matter the method, it is important the U.S. and its international counterparts use the lack of racial diversity at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games to spark a revolution in winter sport accessibility.


[1] See Lela Moore, How the Winter Olympics Can Become More Diverse and Equitable, Bleacher Report (Feb. 19, 2022), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2953651-how-the-winter-olympics-can-become-more-diverse-and-equitable (finding only seven athletes on the U.S. Olympic Team in the Winter 2022 Olympics that identified as Black). But see Ryan Shepard & Cherranda Smith, Tokyo Olympics: Here Are All of the Black Athletes Competing for Team USA, Black Information Network (Jul. 22, 2021), https://www.binnews.com/content/2021-06-25-2021-tokyo-olympics-here-are-all-of-the-black-athletes-that-have-qualified/ (accounting for 128