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Gender Equity in Sports

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Gender Equity in Sports

Colleen Iardella

American Military University

Gender equity in sports describes an environment in which fair and equitable distribution of overall athletic opportunities, benefits, and resources is available to women and men and in which student athletes, coaches, and athletics administrators are not subject to gender-based discrimination. Title IX, passed in 1972 at the pinnacle of the women’s rights movement, banned sex discrimination in any federally financed education program. It threw into quick relief the imbalanced treatment of male and female athletes on college campuses. Ever since Congress passed the federal gender-equity law, universities have opened their gyms and athletic fields to millions of women who previously did not have chances to play. But as women have surged into a greater part on campus in recent years, many institutions have resorted to deception to make it look as if they are offering more sports to women. Throughout this paper I will discuss the issues of gender equity in sports. I will mention what equal opportunities women have to play sports and how they can develop the psychological, physiological and sociological impact from sports participation. Females are playing team sports more now than they were a decade ago and far more women will play team sports in the next decade. In the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's (SGMA) study, the authors analyzed many team sports and the role that females played in each activity. In 1990-1991, female high school varsity athletic teams numbered 1,892; in 2000-2001, the number increased to 2,746; and in 2005-2006, that number grew to 2,953 teams — a 56.1 percent increase from the 1990-1991 school year. During that same period, the number of male high school varsity teams increased by 23.5 percent. (Shaver, 2007). As the figures pointed out, over the last twenty plus years, female athletes have seen substantial gains in sports participation opportunities. Women participation in sport has a long history. It is a history marked by division and discrimination but also one filled with major accomplishments by female athletes and important advances for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. (Sandys, 2007). Among the many remarkable achievements are those of the first woman to swim the 100-yard freestyle in one minute at the 1932 Olympics; the first woman to compete in a European Grand Prix auto race in 1958; the first woman from an Islamic nation to win an Olympic medal for the 400-metre hurdles at the 1984 Olympics; and the first African woman to win a major marathon in 1994. (Sandys, 2007). Achievements have not only come in a form of medal winners but also women have distinctively commanded from a sports leadership perspective. There have been female Presidents and Secretaries-General of National Olympic Committees. Also, more women are taking employment opportunities in all breathe of sport to include coaching, management, officiating and sports media. Sports have been one of the most important opportunities for female students to gain a psychological, physiological and sociological impact. The benefits of participating in team sports or another form of physical activity has drawn socio-cultural learning experiences for boys and men for many years. The benefits should also be presented to girls and women. It is important to know that females who play sports are less likely to be involved in unruly behaviors and could reduce the risk of teen pregnancies; high school drop outs; lower grades; and certain health risks. As little as four hours of exercise a week may reduce a teenage girl’s risk of breast cancer by up to 60%. (Lopiano, 2002). Furthermore, females who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. They hold a higher positive body image and experience higher psychological well-being than females who do not participate in team sports or physical activities. The positive outcomes of sport for gender equality and women’s empowerment are constrained by gender based discrimination in all areas and at all levels of sport and physical activity, fueled by continuing stereotypes of women’s physical abilities and social roles. (Sandys, 2007). Inequalities and discrimination has lessened throughout the many years since women began to participate in sports but still remains through segregation. Though as a society we are making strides towards equality in sport, such as the Title IX law, it is clear that we still have a long way to go. Women are still isolated into different areas of sports, events and competitions. Women still have issues to gaining positions of leadership from the local levels up to the international levels of the sports industry. The value placed on women’s sport is often lower, resulting in inadequate resources and unequal wages and prizes. (Sandys, 2007). Many women have been put down for sports participation because it is more of a male kind of thing to do and were expected to be more of a supportive role than on the actual playing field. In the field of Social Attitudes, many women, in particular working class women with children do not consider that they are entitled to organize leisure or sports activities outside of home. Social constraints remain strong barriers to women’s involvement in sports and particularly in the performing sports. People think that girls are not as interested in sports as much as boys are. Women’s Sports Foundation research shows that boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 9 – and their parents – are equally interested in sports participation. However, by the age of 14, girls drop out of sports at a higher rate that is six times greater than boys. Girls and women do not receive the same positive reinforcement about their sports participation. (Lopiano, 2002). Sports self-effectiveness and social norms predict higher levels of physical activity and that males would have higher overall physical activity levels than females. We can’t argue that men and women are physically the same. The differences are very apparent and most of these can be seen and easily measured by weight, height, shape and size of anatomy. These differences between men and women provide functional advantages and have survival value. Psychological differences between a man and a woman are less obvious. They can be difficult to describe but those differences can profoundly influence how we form and maintain relationships that can range from work, friendships, parenting and within teams. Women’s increased involvement in sport can promote positive development by providing alternative norms, values, attitudes, knowledge, capabilities and experiences. The contributions of women, particularly in leadership positions, can bring diversity and alternative approaches and expand the talent base in areas such as management and coaching. (Sandys, 2007). Studies in the United States have pointed to a positive relationship between girls’ participation in sport, positive attitudes towards education and higher academic achievements. Programs that successfully increase girls’ participation in sport will have the potential to positively influence girls’ academic performance. Title IX has been put into action in an attempt to give male and female equal benefits in athletics. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 is the landmark legislation that bans sex discrimination in schools, whether it be in academics or athletics. Despite the fact that Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments Act required that all secondary and post-secondary schools provide equal opportunity athletic programs by 1978, progress to date clearly sends the message that sport participation is more important for our sons than it is for our daughters. Today it seems as though Title IX is fading away as popularity tends to continuously rise in male sports. (Jones, 2010). There have been many legal battles as people work to uphold the gender equality Title IX states as law. A case in 1984 of Grove City College versus Bell involved the college arguing that it did not need to comply with the rules of Title IX as the school was not federally funded. Despite having students enrolled in the school who were receiving federal grants, the court still ruled the school did not have to comply with Title IX. In 1988, the Women’s Law Center took action against twenty five universities nationally regarding Title IX and athletics. “Title IX has not been all good for women in sports,” says University of Maine professor Sue Estler. In 1972, 90 percent of coaches for women’s sports were women. Statistics show that in 2008, that number was only 43 percent. Today, despite moving closer to equality in sports, Estler said there still are colleges that are not complying with the law. (Vanorse, 2011). So, to some degree, Title IX does not support gender equality in sports. Although sports for girls and women have made great strides in the past 20 years, it is clear that equality does not exist. For example, in his report on the status of interscholastic sports equity in Minnesota, Dildine observes that, "the data does make unequivocally clear that athletic programs for boys and girls are not equal. There are more, and more varied sports offerings for boys, more money spent on boys athletics, and more money spent per participant for boys athletics" (Priest, 1994). For schools to be in compliance with Title IX, they must address and correct inequalities without delay. The law requires schools to designate and publish the name and school address of an employee to coordinate compliance with Title IX. Schools should also conduct a self-study, considering the areas outlined above and involving school personnel, parents, and students. In a school that complies with Title IX, either the boys or girls sports program would be pleased to accept as its own the program of the other. There are three basic parts of Title IX as it applies to athletics: Participation, Scholarships, and other benefits. Participation requires that women be provided an equitable opportunity to participate in sports as men (not necessarily the identical sports but an equal opportunity to play). Scholarships requires that female athletes receive athletic scholarship dollars proportional to their participation. And, other benefits requires equal treatment in the provision of equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice times, travel and daily allowance, access to tutoring, coaching, locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities, and etc. As Title IX is a law that helps support gender equality in several areas to include women in athletics, gender equality is a fundamental goal of development and belongs to the basic and universally recognized civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The aim of gender equality policy is to ensure all interventions increase women and men’s opportunities to exercise their rights equally and gain equal access to and control over the benefits of development. (Sandys, 2007). The future of women in sports is in the middle of a dramatic lifestyle change. Females are embracing sport more and more every year. The recognition of women and sports seems to have gained enough attention from over the last decade that it has produced better sports products for women, more appreciation and loyalty to the game, added spectator support, and an embracing of sport from women stronger than ever before. Despite a few flaws in the systems, the future of women in sports is looking brighter as time passes. Change for the better is crucial and ensured through female coaches, trainers and referees. The success of sport and physical activity programs aiming to empower girls and women depend on female leaders to prioritize opportunities for women, where such opportunities may be limited without their involvement. Females who take these leadership positions have the responsibility of making decisions about how best to conduct and manage gender equality amongst sports. On June 6 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will launch the Women’s World Cup Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through Sports, at the Department of State with members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and youth soccer players from around the world. This joint initiative by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s issues will harness the power of sports and international exchanges as a means to empower women and girls worldwide. The initiative will include emphasis in the following areas: sports visitor programs; sports envoy programs; and women’s sports management. As I conclude this paper on gender equity in sports and the history, benefits, and outcomes of Title IX, I want to end by saying; the law created to aid in athletic equality amongst genders will continue to be updated with latest developments. Title IX may always be at risk of being weakened, ignored, or wiped out altogether but on the other hand; it is a powerful piece of legal work that has created a generation of women who are smart, confident, and empowered. Some female athletes still face a difficult road but the several past decades have proven the fight for gender equality is worth the effort and determination. Basketball and soccer have achieved a certain level of exposure and funding, while other sports are not receiving adequate promotion, I’m certain within the coming years, those sports too will receive the same exposure.


1). Lopiano, Donna. (2002). Gender Equity in Sports: Whose Responsibility Is It? East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation. Retrieved from

2). Priest, Laurie. (1994). Promoting Gender Equity in Middle and Secondary School Sports Programs. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education, Washington DC. Retrieved from

3). Sandys, Edwina. (2007). Women 2000 and beyond: Women, gender equality and sport. United Nations: Division for the Advancement of Women. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Retrieved from

4). Shaver, Jennipher. (2007). Women’s Participation in Sports Growing. Club The Online Source for Fitness Business Professionals. Retrieved from

5). Vanorse, Holly. (2011). Title IX helps genders clear hurdles. Retrieved at

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