World Athletics –“the sole competent international authority” for the original Olympic sport– has evolved from a men’s only institution to a self-proclaimed “leading voice on issues of gender equality”. My examination of this institutional evolution reveals how a private association, through its regulatory decisions and practices, has given global meaning(s) to the (legal) concept of ‘gender equality’. These meanings are produced by three distinct but related tracks of regulatory change, concerned respectively with women’s (1) competing, (2) governing, and (3) very being in world athletics. Normative evolution along each track, while influenced by external normative/legal developments, is significantly shaped and constrained by certain foundational principles of World Athletics. These principles serve as both limits and strategic resources in processes of institutional contestation. Through such processes, the gendered institutional order of World Athletics is incrementally re-ordered.