Way back when, wherever a woman's place was, it certainly wasn't on the sports fields. The first Olympics in 776BC was an all-male affair and the female version of the human species was not even allowed to watch the events. This policy was likely in place, at least partly, to spare blushes all round - the word 'gymnasium' stems from the Greek gymnos, which means naked. And very naked the athletes were. Luckily there were no corporate logos to be pinned on to chests back in those hardy days. By the time Baron Pierre de Coubertin organised the first modern games in 1896 athletes had got into the habit of covering their modesty, but the idea of women participating in sport was still considered uncouth. The Baron himself said their inclusion in the Olympics would be 'impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect,' no less. But not everyone agreed and four years later a total of 11 women were allowed to join the 1,319 male athletes at the second modern games in Paris, although they were only allowed to enter the gentile games of lawn tennis and golf. Progress on the gender equity front was glacial until the 70s when attitudes really started to liberalise around the world. By the time the Athens games came round a new record had been set for women's participation at the Olympic Games - of a total 10,864 athletes, 6,452 were men and 4,412 were women, just over 40 per cent. At the Beijing games, men will play baseball and women will play softball, but that will be the last Olympic innings for those two sports as this summer the IOC voted both of them off the programme for the London games. Of the 26 other sports that will be on offer in 2008, boxing is the only one that women will not be able to participate in, apparently because the IOC decided that women's boxing has not yet taken a big enough hold worldwide to deserve a slot at the Olympics. Within some sports men and women take part in different events, for example only men enter the 50km walk, while they don't get to have a go at rhythmic gymnastics or synchronised swimming. In terms of medal tallies in Athens, China benefitted more than any other country from the efforts of its women who won 40 of its 63 medals. All fodder to strengthen the female front. In the realm of sports administration and management, however, women are still very much in the minority. For all the IOC's efforts to promote equity among the athletes, only 12 out of its 116 members are women. And of the 202 national Olympic committees around the globe, only nine have women presidents - five of which are in Africa. The biggest obstacle to equality among the athletes is the Muslim world where beliefs about how a woman should dress and behave often clash with contemporary sporting culture - only nine per cent of athletes sent by Muslim countries to the Athens games were women. Iran - a country that wouldn't even allow a Spanish woman to carry its nation's name placard during the opening ceremonies in Barcelona - holds the alternative Muslim Women's Games every four years where women can dress as they please. Machine gun-toting female soldiers guard the event held in a remote mountain resort to keep men out. Teheran had plans to build a purpose-built stadium for the games, complete with a surrounding high wall to keep out the prying male eyes, but the plan was apparently scrapped when it was pointed out that men travelling in passing airplanes and helicopters might be able to catch a glimpse of the female athletes below. The equality in the sports movement is undeniably gaining momentum however. In Barcelona in 1992, 35 national Olympic committees sent all-male teams; that number fell to 26 for Atlanta and 12 for Sydney. In Athens it was down to just nine, including countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. While the members of the IOC are wary of trampling on cultural or religious sensitivities, quietly pressure is being applied to promote gender equity in the world of sports. Here's hoping the positive trend continues.