Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Policy is not Enough to make Sport Gender Equitable


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

Safai, P. (2013). Women in sport policy. In L. Thibault & J. Harvey (Eds.). Sport Policy in Canada (317-349). Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.

3 thoughts on “Policy is not Enough to make Sport Gender Equitable

  1. The thoughts and information presented on the topic of women in sports is a topic that was brought to the forefront through the RIO 2016 Summer Olympics. The women performed and succeed on an international stage at the elite level. So why then is there still an issue of participation for women from children to adults? The critical analysis of Safia’s article, “Women in Sport Policy” by Cocchiarella presents the notion that policy is indeed a portion of the discussion but it is just one part of the larger discussion.
    Society has come a significant way in the last 50 years for women in many capacities but sport and active living there is still much ground that needs to be made. Today we have the NHL,NFL, MLB, and the NBA to name only a few of the professional sport leagues in North America, but why is there not many professional women’s leagues? The first one that comes to mind is the WNBA, which is a professional basketball league. Another women’s league is the Legend Football League, which has recently switched their name. This league is a contact football league for women where they wear minimal clothing and small pads. Is this what we want as a women’s league in our day?
    Policy is a great starting point but to make significant ground in the participation of women in sport there needs to be a society shift in how women are perceived in sport. Subtle gender issues still plague all levels of sports and it will be an uphill challenge to confront equality in sports.
    The critical analysis by Cocchiarella presents a shift in societal perception needs to take place and I would have to agree. The subtle implications of sexism still exists and this is clearly evident by the objectify of women in sports league like the Legends Football League. Societal perceptions cannot be switched overnight but with the acknowledgment that work still needs to be done from policy to society views then the shift can begin to move along.


    • You made some excellent points about the discrepancy between men and women professional sport leagues. Typically, the women’s professional sport leagues don’t receive as much attention as the men’s professional sport leagues, and it will definitely be a long time before those leagues receive the same attention as the men’s pro sport leagues. There are more women’s professional sport leagues popping up in North American (like the NWHL and the CWHL), and that’s definitely a step in the right direction toward gender equity in sport. It’s unfortunate that they are not receiving as much attention, and it’s not because of the quality of the game. Those women are extremely talented, but the stereotype is still present that women’s sport isn’t as good as men’s sport.

      I agree that the Legend Football League isn’t help the cause of breaking down the stereotypes of women in sport. If you actually watch that the game, it’s decent football, but the limited clothing ruins the game. Although the argument can be made that it’s sexist to judge a women for her clothing (she should be able to dress how she likes without receiving judgment), it’s sad that the only way tickets for women’s contact football will sell is if the athletes are scantily clad. The league does signify female empowerment, but overall it sends a bad message to young girls that the only way they will be noticed in their sport is if they sexualize their bodies (for example, instead of Genie Bouchard was asked to twirl by the on court presenter: A societal shift has occurred markedly since the beginning of women’s participation in sport, but I agree that more work still needs to be done to keep this shift progressing.


  2. The gender equity in sport is a topic with many different sides to consider. While professional sport still continues to be male dominated, and can argue that the amateur portion of the Canadian Sport System has, within the recent years, subsided to favour female sport.

    This argument is based off of two pieces: Canada’s performance at the 2016 Summer Olympics and Own the Podium – Canada’s NSO Funding partner for excellence.

    The vast majority of medals for Canada at the event were won by our female athletes. This was largely due to the quality of female athletes that our system has produced over the past few cycles. However, we must also consider these medals were not accidental. These athletes were targeted by OTP as medal potentials, and receive strategic investment. And when comparing Canada’s programs to places like South America, where women’s sport is underfunded, it makes to spend the money on the women’s programs if OTP wants medals. This is evident in Basketball, where the women’s program received $1,200,000 for OTP, while the men were allotted $800,000.

    This is just one example of how the Canadian Sport System has begun to transition to become female-favored. As long as OTP focuses primarily on podium finishes, I believe Canada’s share of international medals won by our female athletes will only increase. However, the fact that males continue to hold the majority of power positions must not be overlooked, and is a real issue when discussing the Canadian Sport System as a whole.


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