When one thinks about sport today, they’ll generally think about the big professional sport leagues, which are dominated by men. The age-old perception that sport is a man’s world is still prevalent in today’s society. Despite the increasing pressure and effort to make all aspects sport (athlete participation, coaching, officiating and management) gender equitable, organizations are still failing at it (for example, see the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport’s Racial and Gender Report Cards). What’s been done so far to encourage gender equity in sport?
Safai (2013) discussed the various policies and organiations that have attempted to encourage the participation of women in sport since the 1960s. Most of these policies have not succeeded, largely due to the lack of accountability of the policies. For example, the
Sport Funding and Accountability Framework (SFAF) dictates that NSOs/MSOs would get funding if they showed that their policies, programs, practices, and procedures demonstrated equity for women and other marginalized groups. However, not all NSOs/MSOs rely on government funding, and there is still lack of compliance from other NSOs/MSOs (though it is not clear if the lack of compliance is a conscious decision or stems from barriers to compliance). Many organizations, like the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS), turned towards a liberal feminist approach, or started receiving federal funding, swallowing them into the male-dominated Canadian sport system.
The Canadian government, while spouting their commitment to gender equity in sport, still act in contradictory ways. The 2003 Physical Activity and Sport Act discussed three strategies to reduce the barriers associated with participation in sport. One such strategy stated “Undertake initiative to increase opportunities in coaching, officiating, and volunteer leadership for women, persons with a disability Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities” (Safai, 2013, p. 333). Why only volunteer leadership? Do women not deserve to get paid for leadership positions?
Similarly, the government didn’t stand up for women when they were trying to get women’s ski jumping included in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. When the women lost their lawsuit, the government could have made a political statement, like governments did during the anti-apartheid movement with the boycotting of South Africa from international sporting competitions. But, they didn’t, further perpetuating the marginalization of women in sport.
Even women who are advocates of gender equity in sport act in contradictory ways. Landdeck (2012) contemplated in her article why there aren’t more mothers as soccer coaches. She writes that coaching takes up a lot of time, and that “much of this cannot be easily interrupted by care for younger children, making dinner, or the hundred other things that are part of the daily life for many mothers”. Perhaps unconsciously, this statement is sorting mothers into the stereotypical gender role of the stay-at-home mom. Why doesn’t she acknowledge that many mothers have careers? That men can take on the main caregiving role?
Safai (2013) contends that better policy is still needed, and while I agree, policy is only one aspect to achieving gender equity in sport. In the 50+ years that have focused on policy, progress has been made, but not enough. You could have all of the policies in the world, but if the societal perception that sport is a man’s domain still exists, policies will not be enough to combat the glass ceiling women face in sport. Maybe CAAWS should go back to its radical feminist roots. Maybe women need to take matters into their own hands and keep fighting back against the system, like Jen Welter, Dawn Braid, and Kim Ng have. The solution is definitely not simple, but it should start with changing the perception of women in sport.
Landdeck, K. S. (2012). Why Aren’t More Soccer Moms Soccer Coaches? Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2012/12/why-arent-more-soccer-moms-soccer-coaches/266151/
Safai, P. (2013). Women in sport policy. In L. Thibault & J. Harvey (Eds.). Sport Policy in Canada (317-349). Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.