Despite more female competitors, sexism remains predominant in women’s sport
Canada’s performance so far at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics can be described in two words: girl power.
Of the 14 medals Canada has racked up, all but one have been won by female athletes.
With Canada’s women’s soccer team assured of a medal later this week, team member Quinn will also become the first non-binary transgender athlete to win one.
Canada’s performance is representative of the ambitions of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make the international even more inclusive. Before Tokyo 2020, the IOC published new directives ensure fair, equitable and inclusive representation at the Olympic Games.
The guidelines include practical checklists, tips to support broadcasters’ attempts to diversify coverage, and competitive programs designed to give equal weight to men and women.
Overall 49% of Tokyo 2020 athletes are women – an absolute record.
Find live broadcasts, must-see videos, breaking news and more in a perfect Olympic Games package. Following Team Canada has never been easier or more exciting.
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But according to Michele Donnelly, assistant professor of sports management at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.
“There are differences in the uniform requirements in some sports, there are actually differences in the sets of rules by which men and women play or the distances over which they compete,” she said. told CBC guest host Rosemary Barton.
Donnelly said the increase in the number of female Olympic athletes, both on Canadian teams and abroad, is significant. But they should not be the keystone of a discussion on gender equality, especially when around two-thirds of the IOC’s executive members are men.
“When the discussion of gender equality is limited to numbers, as the International Olympic Committee really has been, you don’t really address equality in any substantive way, and that’s really what it is. remains to be done, ”she said.
“Sexually marketable uniforms”
One of the ways that some sports federations and organizations have failed to address equality is the continued sexualization of women’s uniforms.
Sports writer and author Kavitha Davidson recounts an event involving the Australian women’s basketball team where female players – not male players – were forced by their own federation to wear form-fitting swimsuit-style uniforms.
“[The players] had to wear them, but… they were very candid about their discomfort, that it didn’t really help them perform better on the floor, ”said Davidson, who is based in New York City.
Davidson says some officials admitted the uniforms were a marketing push to make female athletes “as sexually marketable as possible.”
Unfortunately, this is not a unique story.
In 2004, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested that female footballers wear “tighter shorts” than their male counterparts in order to attract more viewers.
Several years later, the International Boxing Association asked female boxers to wear skirts instead of shorts in preparation for the introduction of women’s boxing at the London 2012 Olympics. Poland even made the wardrobe change mandatory.
Really what is needed is a comprehensive review to better understand athletes as people who are elite level athletes, but who have families and have other responsibilities beyond their sport.– Michele Donnelly, Brock University
That doesn’t mean, however, that athletes don’t push back on what they perceive to be sexist uniform regulations. Last month, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team protested a mandatory bikini bottom law by wearing shorts instead at a European Championship match.
Days later, members of the German women’s gymnastics team wore long leotards, instead of the more revealing standard leotards, when competing in the Olympics.
Yet these are exceptions rather than the norm. Unfortunately, Davidson said, the sexualization of the uniforms of some female athletes has negatively impacted perceptions of some incredibly dangerous sports, such as gymnastics.
“At least in the [United] States, the most striking faces [in gymnastics] like Simone Biles, they’re women who wear leotards, put on makeup and challenge what people might want to call tenacity or dangerous sport, ”she said.
Motherhood or the Olympic Games?
Sexual exploitation of female sports is not limited to uniforms, however, with Donnelly saying female athletes also face sexism due to their ability to have children.
“You still have those institutionalized practices in sport that really don’t leave room for mothering besides being an elite level athlete.”
In the past, some federations and organizations viewed motherhood as a handicap in a woman’s athletic career more than a normal part of a female athlete’s journey.
In 2019, for example, American Olympians Alysia Montano and Kara Goucher spoke about their old contracts with sportswear giant Nike. They claimed their contracts did not guarantee protection against reduced sponsorship compensation for pregnant athletes and new mothers.
Ahead of this year’s Olympics, Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold was initially declared ineligible for competition because she was pregnant and postpartum with her daughter in 2018 and 2019 – the period used by the IOC to determine her qualification for Tokyo 2020.
Donnelly said those rulings and rules set up a problematic pretext that only women are responsible for the care and upbringing of children.
“There are a lot of men… who have left young children at home and families at home, and because there has never been a wait to make room for that with male athletes. , this lack of attention to family responsibilities continued with female athletes. “
It’s really important to just recognize the athlete as a holistic human being, their identity, their demographics, and their flaws. “– Kavitha Davidson, sports writer and author
Some sports officials have taken positive steps to normalize motherhood and motherhood.
Ahead of this year’s Olympics, for example, the IOC announced it would allow nursing mothers to bring their children to Tokyo.
This, however, came after some athletes, including Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher, pleaded with authorities not to make her choose between her baby and the Olympics.
Donnelly said appeals and pleas were not enough; more needs to be done to increase the normalization of motherhood and athletes.
“Really what is needed is a comprehensive review to better understand athletes as people who are elite level athletes, but who have families and who have other responsibilities beyond their sport. . “
Davidson agrees that athletes should be viewed as human beings, not just as athletes.
“Athletes keep being black women when they step onto the gym floor, and that burden comes with them. They also carry that burden with them,” she said.
“Just recognizing the athlete as a holistic human being, their identity and demographics as well as their flaws, is really important.”
Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Kaity Brady, Samira Mohyeddin and Alison Masemann