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.
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.
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.