Keeping score

If we want to increase participation in sport by girls and young women in all communities, we need strong female leadership. I learned this lesson from my feminist teammates and sisters.

It isn’t that women drop out. Many don’t even have a chance to think about a career in sports. Promoting women as coaches, executives, officials, even sportscasters, is important for the culture of sport. We need to change the mindset about women and sports so girls can play the sports they love when they’re young, and continue playing—and becoming mentors and leaders—later.

We took a giant leap in Ontario with the announcement this morning from the Hon. Eleanor McMahon, Minster of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Girls and women are participating in sports in record numbers. Canadian women have earned Olympic berths in roughly the same numbers as men for more than 20 years, and bring home even more medals. There isn’t a sport that girls and women do not play, excel at or enjoy as spectators.

But here’s the rub: Canadian girls and women still do not participate in sports in the same percentages as boys and men and they are woefully under-represented in coaching or in leadership.


Systemic barriers

My colleague Peter Donnelly and I have been tracking participation and leadership by girls and women in university and international sport at U of T’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies.

In Ontario universities, women make up 55 per cent of the enrollment of full-time students, but men enjoy 58 per cent of the opportunities to represent their schools on a varsity sports team. That’s 1.8 opportunities for women for every 100 students compared to 3.1 for men.

Our most recent (2015) survey showed that 83 per cent of the head coaching jobs (81 per cent of the assistant positions) are held by men, 70 per cent of the athletic directors are men.

The disparity is the same in amateur sport.


Lessons learned

First-wave feminism promoted the view that girls and women should have their own separate sphere in sports. The Women’s Amateur Athletic Federation of Canada even campaigned with the slogan “Girls’ sports run by girls.” Female coaches were seen as best suited to provide developmentally appropriate opportunities for girls and young women. That meant jobs for women. While men still enjoyed the best financial support, that philosophy led to the creation of female-led departments in most Ontario universities, and coaching and teaching jobs for many women.

Second-wave feminism in Canada had no time for “separate spheres” and “girls’ rules.” Men’s and women’s sports organizations and athletics departments were integrated. But without support for quotas or affirmative action programs, there was no assurance that women would receive a proportional share of the jobs. And they didn’t. While women’s participation soared, men got most of the new coaching and leadership jobs.


Why this matters

To paraphrase our Prime Minister, It’s 2017.

The Ontario government gets it: If Canadian sport is to fully reflect Canadian society, we need to bring more voices, rhythms, and traditions into the field—especially those of female leaders.

As more opportunities become available for women, the more women will be given the chance to prove themselves and really make an impact within the Canadian sports industry. I’d like to think that as we see more women in leadership and decision-making roles, we should also see significant changes in participation, media and sponsorship.

We owe it to the remarkable young women who invest themselves in athletics to give them better opportunities to forge careers in sport.


Principal Bruce Kidd in his office, wearing the symbolic hat of those who supported the Women's March that occurred earlier this year. Photo by Ken Jones.



I appreciate this Blog Bruce.

I appreciate this Blog Bruce. I see the lack of women participating as coaches in the sports where my children participate. It is motivating me to consider becoming a coach. I coached my son at a track and field tournament recently and he performed his personal best in all events!

As always Bruce, really

As always Bruce, really thorough and on point.
The inequities continue - gender, race,sexual and gender identity, and so on.
My goal is to reduce the intended harms to athletes - some of which are the result of not enough women coaching and not enough attention to what athletes say about their pathway to success. We must learn to listen to those performing in sport and tie safe sport to performance outcomes.

Onwards as always

You have always been one of the sisterhood.

Well said...and well worn! I

Well said...and well worn! I liken young women in sports today, along the lines of young women in science, a couple of decades ago. Change can and will occur in these male-dominated fields, if we have the persistence to go along with our convictions.

Bruce, you have been a

Bruce, you have been a tireless advocate and feminist brother to all of us who work and play in women's sport in Canada. Excellent points and an excellent summary that I will share with my British Columbia sport colleagues. Thank you for all you have done for girls and women in sport in Canada!