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Women in Sport

International practice

Actively Engaged: a Policy on Sport for Women and Girls, Government of Canada, Department of Canadian Heritage, (2009). Canadian Heritage is committed to a sport system that provides quality sport experiences, where women and girls are actively engaged and equitably supported in a full range of roles. In doing so, women and girls should have meaningful opportunities to become involved in and develop in sport according to their interests, abilities, talents and choices, throughout a lifetime’s involvement. This policy recognises that the contributions of actively engaged women and girls are critical to realising the objectives of the Canadian Sport Policy and for achieving results for Canadians.

The Leading Edge: Good practices for creating gender-equitable boards in sportCanadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, (2018). This resource provides sport leaders with information and tips to enhance good practices or dial up efforts to support gender-equitable boards. It includes information on making the case for gender-equitable boards; intentional leadership; setting clear objectives and evaluating progress; reviewing by-laws, processes and procedures; creating an inviting culture; proactively recruiting women; and, providing mentoring and training opportunities.

The Rally Report: Encouraging Action to Improve Sport for Women and Girls, Dr. Catherine Sabiston, Canadian Women & Sport, (June 2020). This study is designed to inform, educate, and inspire action across Canada and to keep girls in sport. We invite you to rally with us—to drive change and build the momentum we need to achieve gender equity. Let’s use our collective voices to advocate for sport that is inclusive and reflects our values. Overall, The Rally Report shows that sport participation levels for Canadian girls are much lower than boys.  Among girls who have participated in sport, there is a dramatic dropout rate observed with 1 in 3 girls leaving sport by late adolescence. By comparison, the dropout rate for teenage boys (aged 16-18) is only 1 in 10. Sport participation rates for Canadian girls decline steadily from childhood to adolescence with as many as 62% of girls not playing sport at all.

Women in Sport: Fuelling a lifetime of participation, Brunette M and O’Reilly N, Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, (2016). This report raised great concern that; despite more than two decades of active campaigning for greater representation and recognition of Canadian women’s sport; the participation figures remained alarmingly low. The report cited research indicating that if a Canadian girl has not yet participated in a sport by the age of 10, there is only a 10% chance that she will be physically active (i.e. to the level recommended by the Canadian government to maintain health and wellbeing) as an adult. In Canada, only 59% of girls between the ages of 3 and 17 years participate in organised sport, and this figure drops alarmingly in late adolescence to 22%, secondary school sport participation also drops off. Girls and women of all ages and backgrounds face prolific structural and behavioural hurdles to maintaining roles as sport participants and sport leaders. Organisational hurdles include: declining rates of sports participation among girls/women; limited female-specific sports opportunities that meet the needs and interests of girls/women; limited access to quality coaching, training, equipment and facilities that embrace specific abilities and skill levels; lack of positive role models, and; low levels of media coverage. Individual hurdles that must be overcome include: competing demand for time; lack of interest in sport participation; lack of parental and peer support, and; lack of financial resources allocated to girls/women’s sport. The identified hurdles must be addressed through multi-level, national and individual efforts; led by government policy and championed by organisations like CAAWS who are committed to seeing more girls and women actively engaged in sport. Across the Canadian sports system there needs to be a positive cultural that aims to inspire girls/women to be more active. The report provided a variety of recommendations.

Equality between women and men is one of the European Union’s founding values. The EU has published an overall strategy document for equality between women and men which represents the European Commission’s progressive work program on gender equality.

  • The EU’s Gender Equity Index shows how member countries are progressing toward implementing this strategy.
  • In addition the EU has published a White Paper on Sport, that addressed social, economic and organisational aspects of sport in the EU.

The EU Directorate for Education and Culture has also addressed gender issues in sport, specifically the scope of gender-based violence in sport within the EU.

Study on gender-based violence in sport: Final Report, Mergaert L, Arnaut C, Vertommen T and Lang M, European Commission, Directorate for Education and Culture, (2016). This study provides an overview of legal and policy frameworks; describes initiatives promoted by sport organisations and civil society; identifies best practice in combatting gender-based violence in sport; and makes recommendations for future action. Several forms of gender-based violence in sport were considered: verbal, non-verbal, physical abuse, and sexual harassment. These forms are not mutually exclusive, but overlap. This study explicitly included violence against LGBTQ persons, and considered both male and female victims as well as perpetrators.

Gender Equity in Sport: proposal for strategic action 2014-2020, European Commission, (2014). Although there are many external factors that impact upon women’s participation in sport, there are also many factors at play within the sport sector which can hamper the participation of women. For example, the lack of women coaches to create a gender friendly and safe sport environment, lack of interest from decision making boards that are dominated by men, and lack of sustainable gender equality policies leading to concrete changes. The 2010 Euro barometer on gender equality report indicated that Europeans are concerned about the sexist stereotypes found in the world of sport. Progress toward greater equality in sport can be realised through concrete measures, supported by sustainable policies and, where necessary, legal frameworks. This report proposes strategic action to ensure that sport is attractive to all, but pays particular attention to girls and women, whatever age or background, so that they can participate, work, govern and enjoy sport, in a safe and secure environment. At the same time sport should be promoted as a tool to improve gender equality in society, as it has the potential to educate people for leadership, contribute to the skills needed for a role or profession, and discourages gender based violence. Furthermore, the media attention on sport makes it an excellent tool to fight against negative gender stereotypes in sport and society as a whole.

Gender equality in sport: Getting closer every day, Ivana Katsarova; graphics: Samy Chahr, European Parliamentary Research Service Briefing, (March 2019). Briefing paper covers background and research relating to gender equality and sport. Specific focus areas include: Women's (long) road to the Olympics; Women in sports-related decision-making; Women as coaches; Gender pay inequalities; Gender-related stereotypes in media representation; Popularity and coverage of women's sports events in the EU; European parliament views on gender equality in sport.

Women in Sport PolicySport Ireland (2019). The first Women in Sport policy from Sport Ireland identifies four key areas which have emerged as current gaps and future opportunities for women in sport. These areas are: coaching and officiating; active participation; leadership and governance; and visibility. They will target each of these four areas to deliver on the commitments of this policy.

20x20: If she can't see it, she can't be itFederation of Irish Sport, (accessed 6 May 2020). 20×20 is about creating a cultural shift in our perception of girls and women in sport. By increasing visibility of women’s sport it will become a greater part of who we are and what we follow.

Women and Girls in Sport and Active Recreation strategy, Sport New Zealand, (October 2018). Our Government is committed to championing equality for women and girls in Aotearoa New Zealand. We know there are clear inequalities for women and girls when it comes to participation, and their wider involvement and visibility within sport and active recreation in Aotearoa New Zealand.

  • Interactive Commitment Progress update, (accessed 21 September 2020). View this update to track progress on the commitments and the actions against the three strategic priorities; Leadership, Participation, Value & Visibility.

Realising the opportunity: addressing New Zealand’s leadership pipeline by attracting and retaining talented women, New Zealand Government, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, (September 2013). Leadership talent is in short supply in New Zealand and globally. Yet at every successive management level significant proportions of talented women drop out or their career stalls.  This report examines how three factors: (1) unconscious bias, (2) career breaks, and (3) inflexible working environments can create barriers to women’s career progression and contribute to the loss of leadership talent. Proactive talent management that identifies high potential and high performing women and supports them in their leadership career is critical to ensuring talented women enter and stay in the leadership pipeline. To be fully effective, gender balance in leadership needs to be seen as a business imperative on the strategic agenda. This report identifies a number of actions that organisations can take to reduce these barriers and gain the benefit of attracting and retaining talented women into leadership roles:

  • raising awareness and developing actions to address the unconscious bias that otherwise will continue to create invisible barriers to women’s progress in the leadership pipeline;
  • supporting talented women to return to work or re-enter the workforce in jobs that fully utilise their leadership skills and value to the organisation;
  • aligning policies, workplace practices, and organisational culture to support effective flexible working arrangements for all employees;
  • proactively planning and managing women’s leadership careers in a way that supports their career and life choices;
  • taking an executive-led and strategic approach to implementing transformational change that will shift existing mindsets and behaviours to ones that support gender balance in leadership.

Final Report of the Government’s Women and Sport Advisory Board, United Kingdom, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, (March 2015). The Advisory Board’s interim report, published in October 2014, set out five areas of work the Board chose to focus on and provided an overview of progress. This report builds on the interim report and looks ahead by suggesting further actions in each of the five key areas: (1) increasing women’s participation in sport; (2) improving the media profile of women’s sport; (3) increasing commercial investment in women’s sport; (4) improving women’s representation in leadership and the workforce, and; (5) greater recognition of women’s sporting achievements.

Sport England

  • Go where women are: insight on engaging women and girls in sport and exercise, Sport England, (2015). This review explores our current understanding of what women want from sport and exercise programs; their relevant motivations, barriers, and triggers that prompt them into being more active. Seven key principles for program providers are discussed: (1) change the offer to suit the women being targeted, listen to marketing and customer experiences of women; (2) don’t just talk about sport, consider how to present and explain the intended experience; (3) differentiate sport from other interests by promoting (not preaching) the benefits; (4) make sport the ‘norm’ for women of all ages, sizes, and cultural backgrounds by celebrating it; (5) use positivity and encouragement to drive action (rather than fear of the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle); (6) make it easy for women to act, address both practical and emotional barriers to participation; and, (7) remember that people make or break the experience, ensure participants are properly supported along the way.
  • Helping women and girls get active: a practical guideSport England, (2015). This practical guide contains advice, suggestions, hints, and tips that make it easier to get more women and girls active in the local area. Provides advice on communication, making the sessions attractive, maintaining and growing attendance, and shares good examples.
  • Reframing Sport for Teenage Girls: Building strong foundations for their futuresWomen in Sport, (April 2019). Funded by Sport England this research provides evidence supporting the need to reframe sport and physical activity as something that girls’ value and perceive to enhance their lives. It includes 8 Principles of Success to support organisations to bridge the ‘relevance gap’ in sport for girls and ensure it has a more meaningful place and is something they value and perceive to enhance their lives. A Toolkit to help organisations implement the Principles is also available.
  • This Girl Can. This is a national campaign developed and supported by Sport England and its partner organisations. It’s designed to provide a web-based and social media platform for information, community awareness, inspirational stories, best practice, and promotional activities that encourage women and girls to become more active.


  • Levelling the playing field: 2019 report and recommendationsScottish Women and Girls in Sport Advisory Board, (2019). The 2018 First Report and Findings from the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG) stated that: “Women are significantly less likely than men to meet physical activity guidelines; just 59% of women do the recommended amount of activity per week, compared to 69% of men. Only 14% of CEO positions across Scotland’s national governing bodies are held by women. 99% of sponsorship investment and 95% of media coverage is dedicated to men’s sport.” This Board set out to recommend further improvements to drive participation in sport and physical activity amongst women and girls and discuss how more private and media investment could be attracted into the sector.

Women in Sport 

The organisation, Women in Sport, believes that NGBs must broaden their focus from simply improving the gender diversity of their board, to addressing diversity across their entire organisation. This will start to build a pathway for women who can move into leadership roles, making gender diversity in the NGBs more sustainable, which in turn will make them more effective and successful organisations.

  • Beyond 30% - Female Leadership in Sport, Women in Sport, (2017). This is the seventh report on the leadership roles filled by women in UK sporting organisations. Key finding in this report:
    • the percentage of women on the boards of National Governing Bodies (NGBs) has remained static for 3 years, with an average of 30% of board positions continuing to be held by women;
    • there has been a fall in the percentage of women in Senior Leadership roles which now stands at 36%, after a high of 42% in 2014;
    • 24% of Chief Executives of NGBs are women, an increase from 15% in 2009;
    • women continue to be under-represented in Performance Director roles;
    • 44% of NGB Development Directors are women, a slight fall since 2015;
    • women make up a third of Non-Executive Director roles and a similar percentage of positions as Chair of an NGB.

Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation

  • Changing the Game, for Girls: A toolkit to help teachers get more girls involved in PE and school sport, Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, (2016). This resource is designed to help schools and physical education (PE) teachers get more girls involved in PE and school sport by understanding the reasons why so few girls participate. Overall, this research found that families are the most powerful influence on a child’s activity levels, and schools are seen as the most important site for change. Because school attendance is compulsory, schools have a unique opportunity to deliver programs (e.g. PE and school sport) and create a culture in which physical activity is valued. A whole-school approach is recommended, involving students, parents, and teachers.

Empowering Girls and Women through Physical Education and Sport, Kirk D, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, (2012). This report states that we should be concerned about gender equity in physical education because access and regular participation in physical activity is a fundamental human right. The issues surrounding girls’ participation in physical education and sport are clearly identified in the research literature; however, the problem is multifaceted and complex.  The underlying issues range from policy and strategy, through professional and institutional issues, to personal and social issues. This range of interdependent and interacting factors contributes to the complexity of this issue and presents challenges for change.  This report contains examples from Asia and Africa of innovative projects that have sought to facilitate girls’ and women’s participation in physical education and sport.  Grassroots ownership of programmes may be important both to meeting the specific needs of particular communities of girls and women, and to sustainability.  In almost all of the examples, physical education was viewed as a means of achieving additional goals such as leadership training, health knowledge, and improving the prevalence of literacy.

Sport for Development Programmes for Girls and Women: a global assessment, Hancock M, Lyras A, Ha J, Journal of Sport for Development, Volume 1(1), pp.15-24, (2013). International sport and humanitarian institutions have advocated the need to leverage the positive impact that sport can have on individuals, cultures, and societies. Girls and women are underrepresented in social, political, legal, and educational positions in countries around the world. The United Nations suggests that national and international agencies provide girls and women equal access to sport as a means of promoting physical and mental health, social integration, self-esteem, and skill development.  This study identified trends in sport for development programs for girls and women. Of the 376 programmes analysed, 123 were found in Europe, 101 in Africa, 68 in North America, 55 in Asia, and 29 in Australia. Overall, the top three primary program objectives to promote gender equity were: (1) individual development, (2) social integration, and (3) the development of social capital.

Sports for Generation Equality Framework: Driving implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action through the Power of the Sport Ecosystem, UN Women, (2020). UN Women invites members of the sport ecosystem to join the Sports for Generation Equality Initiative to accelerate progress on a set of common principles and aligned objectives that will harness the power of sport in making gender equality a reality in and through sport. Under the leadership of UN Women, the Sports for Generation Equality initiative will constitute a neutral space for enhancing cooperation among members to  leverage the and share knowledge and resources and to catalyzing innovation.

Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and WomenWomen's Sports Foundation, (January 2020). In this report, we examine the state of girls’ and women’s sport in the United States through a broad lens, looking at the triumphs, the challenges, and the tremendous opportunities that are yet to be realized. The areas we focus on include sport participation opportunities for girls and women; the benefits of sport participation for girls and women; the barriers that limit and/or hinder participation; critical health and safety concerns of females in sport; Title IX and its ongoing role in supporting the infrastructure for equal access to sport participation for girls and women; the representation of women working in the sport industry and the climate they encounter while working in sport, including pay equity and equal treatment issues; the level and quality of sport media coverage of female athletes; and the representation of women working in sport media.

Progress and Promise: Title IX at 40, Sabo D and Snyder M, SHARP Centre for Women and Girls, White Paper (2013). Forty years ago, the United States Congress passed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This legislation, which reflected the dramatic emergence of women’s rights and feminism, ostensibly ensured that all students from kindergarten through postgraduate school should receive equal educational opportunities regardless of their gender.  The implications for physical education and sport in schools and tertiary institutions were dramatic. The number of girls in high school athletics increased from fewer than 300,000 before Title IX to more than 3.2 million by 2012.  Women’s participation in college athletics increased from 30,000 to more than 190,000 in 2011-2012 (NCAA statistics). However, despite the progress made, opportunities for women in interscholastic and collegiate sports are still weighted toward a male advantage.

Racial and gender report card, Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), University of Central Florida, (accessed 21 September 2020). The Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC) is the definitive assessment of hiring practices of women and people of color in most of the leading professional and amateur sports and sporting organizations in the United States. The report considers the composition – assessed by racial and gender makeup – of players, coaches and front office/athletic department employees in our country’s leading sports organizations, including the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), as well as in collegiate athletics departments.

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