the fights of Alice Milliat, pioneer of women’s sport


When the Summer Olympics kick off in Paris in July 2024, the participating female athletes will, for the first time in the long history of Olympics, be as numerous as their male counterparts.

This late parity is said to have made happy Alice Milliat (1884-1957), feminist activist, athlete (rowing, swimming) and federation leader, whose fascinating documentary, rich in unpublished filmed archives from the 1920s and 1930s in particular, chronicles the struggle that women’s sport has the right to citizenship in a French society so hostile at the time to the slightest attempt at women’s emancipation in the public sphere.

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As a pioneer, Alice Milliat distinguished herself above all in her struggle against a strong opponent, namely Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937), creator and president of the International Olympic Committee between 1894 and 1925. An all-powerful Coubertin and supposed macho, believing that on the Olympics “the role of women should be to crown the winners”.

Excellent organizer

Faced with such a retrograde vision, Alice Milliat, daughter of merchants from Nantes who discovered rowing and… the feminist struggle with the suffragettes in London at the beginning of the 20th centuryand century, where she lived and was married, decides on her return to France to promote the practice of women’s sports. “France is a country of prejudice where the desire remains to keep women under guardianship forever”explains the one who becomes president of Femina Sport, the only club of its kind with its own ground (the Elisabeth stadium near the Porte d’Orléans, in Paris).

When the men returned from the war in 1918, more than 5,000 French women were enrolled in sports clubs. Milliat is an excellent organizer and is at the origin of competitions that make noise, such as this first game of the French women’s football team in 1920.

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In fact, as president of the Federation of Women’s Sport, she hosted the first women’s Olympics in history in Paris, as a numb to Coubertin. Twenty thousand spectators attended Pershing Stadium on August 20, 1922, to cheer on 77 athletes from England, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and even the United States. Without forgetting the French of course.

In addition to Alice Milliat’s biography, this documentary, rich in photos and unpublished filmed archives, gives the floor to great champions (American of German descent Kathrine Switzer, Algerian Hassiba Boulmerka, French boxer Sarah Ourahmoune, swimmer and sports minister , Roxana Maracineanu ) that evoke the place of women in the sport at a high level, the sometimes still condescending gaze of men, the obstacles that remain, the mentalities that develop slowly. Exciting.

The wrong, by Anne-Cécile Genre (Fri, 2021, 63 min). tv story

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