Viewpoint: Gender equality in sports can’t be achieved by money alone

By Mackenzie White

Mackenzie White, Sports Editor

“Because it’s 2015.”

This was the snappy retort a freshly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave to the inevitable “why” question upon unveiling Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

In the three years since entering office, Trudeau has taken strategic measures to ensure Canada has progressed into a more inclusive country than ever before.

The Liberal Party’s 2018 budget, unveiled Feb. 27, was no exception. The budget is unique in the way it proposes governmental departments conduct gender-based analyses of their finances before funding is approved.

About a third of the way through is a subsection entitled, “More Women and Girls in Sport,” detailing a commitment to “achieve gender equality in sport at every level by 2035.” The government plans on spending $30 million dollars to get the plan off the ground floor.

But why?

Citing a Statistics Canada study from 2010, one sixth of Canadian women regularly partake in sport, compared to one third of Canadian men.

Furthermore, it states men are approximately two to three times as likely to be in coaching, officiating or leadership roles. In 2015, women made up 26.3 and 33 per cent of the boards of directors for National Sport Organizations’ (NSO) and Multisport Service Organizations (MSO) – the groups that administer much of the country’s sporting activity.

The budget lacked exact details, but the money will presumably go to the different divisions under Sport Canada, which itself is under the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. Here the money will be divvied up between the 45 NSOs and 22 MSOs.

This means Centretown-based NSOs such as the Canadian Soccer Association, Canadian Lacrosse Association and Swimming Canada would likely see dramatic increases in their funding.

According to government data, Swimming Canada received over $7.7 million in federal support in 2015/16, the highest NSO that year.

But will throwing money at the problem really work? What guarantees this as more than just lip service to the finding a solution?

Population data from 2017 shows a near even split in the number of male and female Canadians. In theory, there should be no reason why women and girls are less involved sports than men and boys.

Low female numbers can be attributed to a comparative lack of opportunity (some sports, such as football, are almost entirely played by men) and social stigma (sports can be seen as “macho” leading to harassment or bullying)

The sports media play a role in the problem, concentrating heavily on the top professional sports leagues – NHL, CFL, NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS and more – in which only men compete. Women’s achievements rarely gain the kind of high-profile coverage male athletes enjoy every hour of every day.

Factors for both genders include access and motivation. Even the most basic of sports require access to equipment, transportation and coaching.

Socio-economic factors can limit participation in sports for both genders. Even the most basic of sports require access to equipment, transportation and coaching, and low-income families struggle to take advantage of opportunities to take part.

A Global News-commissioned poll from late 2017 found Canadian families spent an average of $1120 during the 2016 school year. If simple participation is a luxury, advancement in sporting competition is something many people can only dream of.

It’s important to note that this is not a recent development. In 1998 the Sub-Committee on the Study of Sport in Canada recommended a $50 million investment into the Canadian sporting scene among a host of other suggestions.

A September 2017 Canadian Heritage analysis of the 1998 proposals found many of the proposals were “still relevant in the current context of women and girls in sport in Canada.”

A key observation by the 2017 House committee was that the current Policy on Sport for Women and Girls doesn’t impose any penalties on NSOs or MSOs that don’t comply with its rules.

If the governmental departments should have to comply with gender-based rules in order to gain funding, shouldn’t the NSOs and MSOs fall under the same criterion?

Although many would like gender equality in sports solved, “because it’s 2018,” the far off proposed completion date indicates this is a problem that won’t be fixed overnight.