Women’s Rights in Sport: A Marathon not a Sprint

women-in-sport5b8182d264dce830008b5527-750-490When tasked with writing a sports article that encompassed an International Women’s Day theme it would have been easy to cover the inequalities between male and female sporting professionals or the concerns over the sexualisation of women’s sport. These are important issues that deserve continued coverage; however, International Women’s Day is also a time to reflect, to celebrate the progress that has been made through the determination of individuals and solidarity of many.

International Women’s Day was first observed in 1975, the same year that Junko Tabei became the first woman to conquer Mount Everest. In the following year Krystyna Choynowski-Liskiewicz became the first woman to sail around the world and women’s rowing was added to the Olympic games. The 1980s saw many female firsts including the first professional road race and the first Olympic marathon. Amazingly, it took until the 2012 London Olympics for women to be permitted into all sporting events. In 2015 the Oxbridge boat race scheduled the women’s boat race on the same day as the male equivalent for the first time. This list provides just a snapshot of the strides the sporting world has made in the last 44 years, although in 2019 it is far from perfect. 2018 saw controversy over the banning of Serena William’s black catsuit in the French open, evidence that the policing of female athletes bodies with outdated dress standards is far from over. Six months later Martin Solveig had to apologise for asking the inaugural winner of the Women’s Ballon d’Or, Ada Hegerberg, if she could twerk, an irrelevant question to ask a prize-winning footballer. Though there was plenty to celebrate, 2018 began with The Peyeonh Chang Winter Olympics, which saw a record number of woman compete. Consequently, we witnessed record-breaking success for female competitors. Ester Ledecka became the first female to claim gold medals in two sports while Ireen Wüst won ten Winter Olympic medals betting any other speed skater male or female. 

On the back of #Metoo there have been examples of solidarity within sport in a bid to improve equality. Last year, 150 female gymnastics gave statements accusing physician Larry Nasser of sexual assault and the gold medallists U.S. woman’s ice hockey team threatened to boycott the World Championships over the gender pay gap in their sport. The threat saw the players receive improved wages, benefits and traveling conditions. Similarly, Serena Williams’ pregnancy highlighted that there was a need to address maternity leave policies within tennis and the sporting world more generally. This year’s International Woman’s Day theme is ‘Think equal, build smart, and innovate for change’ From these examples alone it is clear that in 2018 sporting women are living up to the theme, striving together for equality and change. In order to achieve this diverse role models, accountability for failure and an organisational commitment to achieve balance and diversity is required for the continued advancement of not just a female-friendly sporting environment but also a culture that supports diversity and fully recognises and rewards all sporting talent.

– Alison McIntyre


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