To say our Team Canada female athletes are killing it is an understatement. Every time I scroll through my social feeds or turn on CBC I see another incredible young woman excelling in sport, and being a true champion, leader and role model to girls in our country. In 1894 when The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was first established, they set a goal for every Olympic Games to be 50% female athletes and 50% male. Although we aren’t quite there yet, we are getting closer with this year reaching 45% of all participating athletes being female – an all time high.
Even more exciting is the team that Canada has produced. A whopping 60% of Team Canada is female. There are many reasons as to why this might be, although the fact remains that our females are doing exceptionally well on the internationally stage and therefore qualifying more than our men are. Our soccer and rugby teams for example only sent female teams this year. And look how well we’ve done!
So I have asked myself why is there usually such a gap in sports coverage for female sports? Why is sport media coverage only 5% on female athletes and sport and 95% male? Of course the obvious answer is our lack of professional big teams – there is no such thing as female NHL, CFL, or NFL league. But even in non-professional sports this is just as much of an issue.
A recent report found that 75% of women they surveyed wanted to take part in sport, but did not due to fear of being judged on their appearance and ability. The United Nations has suggested that sport will play a leading role in the journey to equal rights for women and girls, yet we still fear this judgment.
In a recent poll of elite female athletes by BT Sport, 67% said they feared that the public and the media valued their appearance over their sporting achievements. They thought how they looked was more important to the public than the medals they won.
When 16-year-old swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak won medal after medal at the Olympic Games, she was still asked in interviews about her older brother Jamie’s NHL draft day. Give the girl her time in the lime light!! She’s one of the fastest women in water on the planet! Can you not focus on that?
The sad reality is that when female athletes are interviewed they are often asked questions about their male coaches/brothers/husbands, their hobbies, their children and their wardrobe. When doing the ‘road to the Games’ story on Simone Biles, the most talented and decorated gymnast of all time, they showed her getting her nails done, and talking on the phone with her girlfriends. And yes, showing that athletes are ‘real people’ is important, but why not talk about her nutrition, her training regime and her goals? Why don’t you ask Michael Phelps about his favorite way to remove his body hair before a race? Because when male athletes are interviewed they are asked about their achievements, strengths and accomplishments.
The fact remains that we have a really big problem in Canada with girls dropping out of sports at an alarming rate once they hit puberty. According to CAAWS, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport and Physical Activity, girls drop out of sport as much as six times more often than boys by the age of 14. And moreover, if girls are not participating in sport at the age of 16, they have less than a 10% chance of participating as adults.
Girls in our country need positive role models in all areas of life. When an eight-year old girl can see young athletes winning medals at the Olympics for Canada, enjoying the experience, showing their incredible skill, talent and strengths, they show that young girl that they can too be an Olympian. We need to expose girls to positive role models throughout life so they can grow into positive, motivated, determined people. And sport CAN do this.
So what can we do? We can support companies like Dove and Always who are proactively supporting the sport achievements of girls and women. We can encourage the companies that we all work for to sponsor a female athlete or sports program aimed at girls. We can use our social media to show traditional media what we want to see when it comes to sports newscasts. We must be the change we want to see for it to exist and flourish.