“I’d rather regret the risks that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all.”
– Simone Biles, Olympic gymnast
118 years ago, women competed in the Olympic Games for the first time. We’ve come a long way since then. Today, powerful female athletes are celebrated for their superhuman achievements all around the world.
But we haven’t reached the finish line for gender equality in sports quite yet. Keep reading to find out why, as we take you through the ways (yes, you might need a snack) gender inequality affects athletes globally. And how you can stand with us and help support those affected.
An Unlevel Playing Field
When the Ethics Center of Finnish Sport investigated discrimination in football and ice hockey, they found that an unsettling amount of female players feel trivialized and discriminated against on grounds of sex.
For example, one athlete said: “My sports career is not valued because of my sex, and I am considered inferior because I'm a girl.”
This is sad but true for a lot of female competitors. One way this manifests is through the gender wage gap in sports.
Forbes recently found that in 2017, the top 10 highest paid female athletes together earned a combined $105 million. Which is still less than top male athletes Floyd Mayweather, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who alone make more than $105 million.
As Beatrice Frey, sport partnership manager at UN Women puts it: "Depending on country context and sport, a man can be a billionaire and a woman [in the same discipline] cannot even get a minimum salary."
The gender wage gap isn’t the only way female athletes are at a disadvantage. In sports journalism especially, the technical prowess of female athletes is often downplayed.
Take former American tennis champion John McEnroe’s recent comment on Serena Williams:
“If [Serena Williams] played in the men’s circuit, she’d be like 700 in the world.”
Yup, that’s the same Serena Williams who holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles combined among active players. Being told that 700 male players could easily outperform her. Alrighty then.
What Has Gender Got to Do with Anything?
“I prefer the word ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time’,” said Serena Williams after being called ‘one of the greatest female athletes of all time’ by a reporter.
We’re with you, Serena. Anyone who identifies themselves as a woman or non-binary CAN be a man’s equal (or better than a man … ).
Men are (typically) biologically stronger than women, yes, but sports isn’t all about physical strength. To be a top athlete, you need courage, determination, technical skill and discipline. In these ways, men aren’t at a natural advantage: the playing field is level.
Yet female athletes still only get a fraction of the support they deserve. What can we do to stamp out this inequality in sports?
We Can Chant Their Names Loudly and Proudly
If you want to help change the way female or non-binary athletes are treated, consider using your voice. And question the damaging beliefs maintained by misogyny.
“Do not be taken in by stereotypes that negate women's athletic abilities and deride women who perform well in sports.”
Praise professional athletes for their bravery, heart, commitment and tenacity. Not for the way they look or what gender they are. It highlights what’s really important and helps female athletes get the respect and support they deserve.
We Can Umpire a Feminist Empire
To ignite positive change for female athletes, we need to inspire it. And for that, we need more feminist leaders in the field.
It’s badass champions like Serena Williams, Becky Hammon and Emma Pooley who are showing the world how it’s done. But we need more voices: people who aren’t afraid to challenge sexism. To give young girls better resources for sports, reduce the gender wage gap and crush double standards in the media.
Want to help? You could contribute to a college or university’s female athletic program to give future sporting leaders the resources they need to develop their skills.
Or maybe you’re a feminist who’s keen to pursue a career in sports or sports journalism. Follow your dreams and give voice to what’s important along the way.
We Can Crush Period Stigma
Debunking corrosive myths, such as the idea that women are emotionally unstable when on their period, can help athletes pursue their dreams without being held back by their gender.
Of course, periods can affect an athlete’s performance. Some people feel tired or a bit cranky at the start of their period. Others feel fine and aren’t limited when they’re bleeding. It is literally different for everyone.
For those who are affected, there are lots of simple adjustments to explore to make playing sports easier, from using a menstrual cup to trying the contraceptive pill. The problem is, we don’t talk about these solutions!
The focus is on misinformation and the stigma surrounding periods. Ignorance that stops people from taking professional athletes seriously and puts off young people from pursuing their passions.
“Young girls are quitting sport because of this, and if it's not spoken about they have no idea how to continue or how to deal with it," says Olympic gold medalist Laura Trott.
The silence surrounding periods needs to be broken. If we don’t normalise period talk, it’ll continue to be a taboo subject and an opportunity for misogynists to put female athletes down.
Carrying The Torch of Equality
“True champions aren’t always the ones that win, but those with the most guts.”
Is there anything more brave than following your dreams in the face of such adversity?
“We want to raise and praise female players while creating conversation about the unequal treatment of women in sports,” says our CEO, Heli Kurjanen.We will be celebrating their achievements on Twitter - join us! And have your say on gender inequality in sports - we’d love to hear your take on things.