Women in Sports

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Equal representation in organized sport for girls and women is commonly referred to as the “battle for equality” and includes a variety of competing feminist ideologies. Worldwide, the dominant representative sex in sport is male both financially and globally except in the rare case of sports created specifically for girls and women and certain sport disciplines. Sports dominated by women instead of men are few and the majority of organized sports dubbed “women’s sports” or the “women’s game” were created as the female equivalent of sports which were first popularized by men and male athletes. Over time there have been gradual and increasing efforts by different groups, individuals and lobbies in different countries to find ways which enable women to gain equal representation and support like their male counterparts. This change can be witnessed at the national level in different countries and in women’s professional leagues. In terms of finding ways to acquire better pay and better funding, efforts largely began in the 20th century. A significant historical marker occurred during the 2012 London Olympics where it became the first Olympic games in which women competed in every sport.

In some areas, sex and gender can serve as a selective and primary factor in terms of determining if women’s sports should receive the same treatment as men’s. Whether or not women are as able-bodied as men can serve as the basis of decision making criteria. Gender-based characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity can become the deciding factor for individuals in terms of their potential sports participation, but can also affect organizing sporting bodies where this has been held as a justifiable dismissal of sports equity for female participants.

Although there are various goals and reasons behind organized team sports participation in Western cultures, one perspective claims that sport is principally organized around the political project of physically and symbolically elevating men over women. One study has claimed that notions of audience interest or preference were based on personal beliefs and assumptions rather than evidence or research and that in some cases these beliefs and assumptions were the reason why coverage of men’s professional sports is prioritized. Social media

The advent of social media has had a positive impact on women’s sports by providing more platforms for advertising and conversation. It has created more opportunities to increase the promotion of women’s sports and helped form the establishment of communities both online and offline around women’s and girls sports, including access to women’s sports news. This pattern is expected to continue into the future and has been presented as a powerful tool to help offset the issues of gender bias and other disparities.

The pay gap in women sports is a controversial issue. Women athletes, in their respective sports, are often paid far less than their male counterparts. The difference between the American men’s and women’s soccer teams’ salaries has been used as an example regarding pay inequality. Women on the U.S national team earned $99,000 per year, while men earned $263,320 if they were to win 20 exhibition matches. There is a substantial gap in rewards in regards to winning the FIFA World Cup. The German men’s national team earned 35 million dollars, while the American women’s national team earned 2 million dollars after winning the World Cup. The battle in equality for fair pay divulges in to other sports in which men earn far more than women. Golf is another sport which has a significant rising female presence. In 2014, the PGA Tour awarded US$340 million in prize money for men’s tournaments, compared to 62 million dollars awarded to the LPGA Tour. Basketball is another sport which has surged in popularity in the last few decades and has significant female presence. In the United States, the NBA organizes top-level professional basketball competition for both sexes, with men playing in the NBA proper and women in the WNBA. As of 2021, a WNBA player’s minimum salary is $57,000, while an NBA player’s minimum salary is $898,310.  An average NBA player makes over $5 million while an average WNBA player makes $72,000.In September 2018, the World Surf League announced equal pay for both male and female athletes for all events, contributing to the conversation in the world of professional sports surrounding equality.

Sania Mirza, a former world No. 1 in women’s tennis doubles, is an Indian Muslim.

Professional sports refers to sports in which athletes are paid for their performance. Opportunities for women to play professional sports vary by country. Some women’s professional sports leagues are directly affiliated with a men’s professional sports league like the WNBA. Others are independently owned and operated like the Premier Hockey Federation, formerly the National Women’s Hockey League.

While women today do have the opportunity to play professional sports, the pay for women’s professional sports is significantly lower than it is in men’s professional sports. An American feminist theory known as the gender pay gap in sports is an attempt to explain the causes behind these differences.

It isn’t uncommon for professional athletes hold second jobs in order to supplement their income due to low salary. Female professional athletes often play in smaller lower-quality facilities than male professional athletes due to low attendance. Women’s professional sports are rarely broadcast regularly on live television. New developments in digital technology have created an opportunity for female leagues to live-stream competitions and events on social media platforms such as Twitter or Twitch instead.

Not only do female athletes themselves face inequality, but so too do women looking to enter the business side of sports. Research has shown that women occupy leadership positions in sports business at a lower rate than men. When women do occupy the same positions as men, they may be paid less, although some research has shown revenue-specific variables may be more relevant than gender-specific variables when examining compensation levels.

Although several professional women’s sports leagues have been established throughout the world in the post-Title IX era, they are generally behind in terms of exposure, funding, and attendance compared to the men’s teams. However, there are notable exceptions. The 2015 Women’s World Cup final was the most-watched soccer game ever in the United States. And in 2017, Portland Thorns FC of the NWSL had higher average attendance than several men’s professional teams, including 15 NBA teams, 13 NHL teams, and 1 MLB team. The Thorns’ 2019 season saw an even higher average attendance of 20,098. This was higher than all but one of the 30 NBA teams in the 2018–19 season, all but three of the 31 NHL teams in the 2018–19 season, 15 of the 24 MLS teams in the 2019 season, and 6 of the 30 MLB teams in the 2019 season

Implementation and regulation of Title IX


Players of Legends Football League do a warming up exercise, USA

In 1972 the United States Congress passed the Title IX legislation as a part of the additional Amendment Act to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title IX states that: “no person shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participating in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance”; in other words, Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funds through grants, scholarships, or other support for students. The law states that federal funds can be withdrawn from a school engaging in intentional gender discrimination in the provision of curriculum, counseling, academic support, or general educational opportunities; this includes interscholastic or varsity sports. This law from the Education Act requires that both male and female athletes have equal facilities and equal benefits. The equal benefits are the necessities such as equal equipment, uniforms, supplies, training, practice, quality in coaches and opponents, awards, cheerleaders and bands at the game. In 1979, there was a policy interpretation that offered three ways in which schools could be compliant with Title IX; it became known as the “three-part test”.

  1. Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment. This prong of the test is satisfied when participation opportunities for men and women are “substantially proportionate” to their respective undergraduate enrollment.
  2. Demonstrating a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution has a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (typically female).
  3. Accommodating the interest and ability of the underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution is meeting the interests and abilities of its female students even where there are disproportionately fewer females than males participating in sports.

Arguments for improvement

Softball home plate collision

Schools only have to be compliant with one of the three prongs. A 1999 study by Sigelman and Wahlbeck found many schools were “nowhere near compliance”. Many schools attempt to achieve compliance through the first prong; however, in order to achieve that compliance schools cut men’s programs, which is not the way the OCR wanted compliance achieved. Equity is not the only way to be compliant with Title IX; athletic departments need to show that they are making efforts to achieve parity in participation, treatment, and athletic financial assistance.

According to research done by the National Women’s Law Center in 2011, 4500 public high schools across the nation exhibited high rates of gender inequality and were considered to be in violation of the Title IX laws. Further research done by the Women’s Law Center in 2017 found schools with a high number of minority students and a higher number of people of color, mainly found in the southern American states, had a much higher rate of gender disparity. A large disparity gap regarding sport-related scholarships for men and women, with men getting 190 million more in funding than women, was also found. Despite an increase in participation in sports by girls and women, this pattern persists. Most colleges focus on their male athletics teams and invest more money into those already successful programs. This disparity is presented by some feminist ideologies as a phenomenon illustrating a cause and effect link between race and gender, and how it plays a significant role in the hierarchy of sports.

Effect of Title IX on women’s sports

Title IX has had a positive effect on women’s sports in America and aided their participation. American female athletes now have grounds to help support the stance that women athletes deserve a higher level of respect and consideration that is necessary in order for their participation. Additionally it has enabled their sports programs and competitive athletes to be taken seriously just as their male counterparts long had.

While the mandate did not immediately go into effect it had been publicized to such an extent that it enabled the general public to sense its future implications. There had been great anticipation for the bill prior to its passage which helped it gain media coverage in time for when the bill was mandated to be followed.

Post Title IX

Main article: Title IX

Women’s sports is given very high priority in U.S. from school itself. Picture on left shows a U.S. high school girls’ water polo team (with their male coaches in background) posing with their trophy. Picture on right shows a U.S. university girl practising a difficult gymnastics manoeuvre under the watchful eyes of her coach.

The involvement in women’s sports spiked after Title IX was put into place, mostly in high school level sports as well as collegiate. Title IX’s effect on women in sport was observed to have far reaching implications that were not restricted to those who were participating in a professional or intermediate way. Girls and women who did not see themselves in a more “serious athlete” light felt increasingly empowered to participate and compete.

The bill allowed for the equal treatment of female athletes to become a part of the larger sports institution and culture and is considered to have played an important role in increasing the popular view in America that female participation and competition in sport was a valid part of society and life.

Participation in America

American women’s ice hockey player, Hilary Knight. Women’s ice hockey is a variant of men’s ice hockey, one of the most expensive sports to play in North America and rare: one among only 4 ice skating team sports worldwide.

Title IX is American law. Its main objective when created was to ensure equal treatment in organized sports and schools regardless of sex, in a federally funded program. It was also used to provide protection to those experiencing discrimination. However, Title IX is most commonly associated with its impact on American athletics and more specifically the impact it has had on women’s participation in athletics at every age.

Since Title IX became law, records have illustrated an increasing number of opportunities in American educational institutions in a variety of sports for women and girls. As of the 2007–2008 school year, females made up 41% of the participants in college athletics. In 1971–1972 there were 294,015 females participating in high school athletics and in 2007–2008 there were over three million females participating, a 940% increase in female participation in high school athletics. in 1971–1972 there were 29,972 females participating in college athletics and in 2007–2008 there were 166,728 females participating, a 456% increase in female participation in college athletics. In 1971, less than 300,000 females played in high school sports. After the law was passed many females started to get involved in sports. By 1990, eighteen years later, 1.9 million female high school students were playing sports.

American studies have investigated whether or not there is a strong correlation between female participation in sport and positive outcomes in women’s education and employment later on in life. A 2010 study found that the changes set in motion by Title IX explained about 20 percent of the increase in women’s education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women. This is not to say that all women who are successful later on in life played sports, but it is saying that women who did participate in athletics received benefits in their education and employment later on in life.

In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. In 1966, 16,000 females competed in intercollegiate athletics. By 2001, that number jumped to more than 150,000, accounting for 43 percent of all college athletes. In addition, a 2008 study of intercollegiate athletics showed that women’s collegiate sports had grown to 9,101 teams, or 8.65 per school. The five most frequently offered college sports for women in America are, in order: (1) basketball, 98.8% of schools have a team, (2) volleyball, 95.7%, (3) soccer, 92.0%, (4) cross country, 90.8%, and (5) softball, 89.2%. Since 1972, women have also competed in the traditional male sports of wrestling, weightlifting, rugby, and boxing. An article in the New York Times reported lasting benefits for women from Title IX, citing a correlation between participation in sports and increased educational opportunities as well as employment opportunities for girls. Furthermore, the athletic participation by girls and women spurred by Title IX was associated with lower obesity rates while other public health program failed to claim similar success.

Participation in leadership roles

U.S. Air Force women personnel do a cross-country run on snow, 2004.

Although female participation in sports has increased due to Title IX, there has not been a similar effect in terms of women holding coaching or other managerial positions in sports. Most sport teams or institutions, regardless of gender, are managed by male coaches and managers. For example, according to 2016 data, 33% of WNBA teams are led by women coaches or managers. The International Olympic Committee also consists of 20% female members. The data presented also showed that 15% of athletic directors in colleges nationwide were females, and that number is much less in the southern states. There are various reasons that have been suggested to account for this trend. Messner and Bozada-Deas (2009) suggest traditional gender roles may play a role and that society’s historical division of labor leads to men volunteering as team coaches and women volunteering as team “moms”. Everhart and Chelladurai (1998) show that this phenomenon may be part of a larger cycle — girls who are coached by men growing up are less likely to view themselves as coaches when they are adults, and so the number of female coaches decreases, meaning more girls are coached by men.

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