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Women get set to run for an awareness event in Netherlands, 2014

Women's sports includes amateur as well as women's professional sports, in all varieties of sports. Female participation and popularity in sports increased dramatically in the twentieth century, especially in the last quarter-century, reflecting changes in modern societies that emphasized gender parity. Although the level of participation and performance still varies greatly by country and by sport, women's sports are widely accepted throughout the world today. In a few instances, such as figure skating, female athletes rival or exceed their male counterparts in popularity. In many sports women usually do not compete on equal terms against men.[1]

Although there has been a rise in participation by women in sports, a large disparity still remains.[2] These disparities are prevalent globally and continue to hinder equality in sports. Many institutions and programs still remain conservative and do not contribute to gender equity in sports.[3]



Ancient civilizationsEdit

Roman women engaged in sports. Mosaic at the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina in Sicily
A statue of a victress of the Heraean Games, represented near the start of a race

Before each ancient Olympic Games there was a separate women's athletic event held at the same stadium in Olympia, the Heraean Games, dedicated to the goddess Hera. Myth held that the Heraea was founded by Hippodameia, the wife of the king who founded the Olympics.[4] According to E. Norman Gardiner:

At the festival there were races for maidens of various ages. Their course was 500 feet, or one-sixth less than the men's stadium. The maidens ran with their hair down their backs, a short tunic reaching just below the knee, and their right shoulder bare to the breast. The victors received crowns of olive and a share of the heifer sacrificed to Hera. They had, too, the right of setting up their statues in the Heraeum.[5]

Although married women were excluded from the Olympics even as spectators, Cynisca won an Olympic game as owner of a chariot (champions of chariot races were owners not riders), as did Euryleonis, Belistiche, Zeuxo, Encrateia and Hermione, Timareta, Theodota and Cassia.

After the classical period, there was some participation by women in men's athletic festivals.[4] Women in Sparta began to practice the same athletic exercises that men did, exhibiting the qualities of Spartan soldiers. Plato even supported women in sports by advocating running and sword-fighting for women.[6]

Notably, cultural representations of a pronounced female physicality were not limited to sport in Ancient Greece and can also be found in representations of a group of warrioresses known as the Amazons.

Early modernEdit

During the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, women played in professional Cuju teams.[7][8]

Chinese ladies playing cuju, by the Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin

The first Olympic games in the modern era, which were in 1896 were not open to women, but since then the number of women who have participated in the Olympic games have increased dramatically.[9]

19th and early 20th centuriesEdit

The educational committees of the French Revolution (1789) included intellectual, moral, and physical education for both girls and boys. With the victory of Napoleon less than twenty years later, physical education was reduced to military preparedness for boys and men. In Germany, the physical education of GutsMuths (1793) included girl's education. This included the measurement of performances of girls. This led to women's sport being more actively pursued in Germany than in most other countries.[10] When the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale was formed as an all women's international organization it had a German male vice-president in addition to German international success in elite sports.

Women's sports in the late 1800s focused on correct posture, facial and bodily beauty, muscles, and health.[11]

Prior to 1870, activities for women were recreational rather than sport-specific in nature. They were noncompetitive, informal, rule-less; they emphasized physical activity rather than competition.[12] Sports for women before the 20th century placed more emphasis on fitness rather than the competitive aspects we now associate with all sports.[13]

In 1916 the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) held its first national championship for women (in swimming),[citation needed][14] In 1923 the AAU also sponsored the First American Track & Field championships for women. Earlier that year the Women's Amateur Athletic Association (WAAA) held the first WAAA Championships.

Few women competed in sports in Europe and North America before the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as social changes favored increased female participation in society as equals with men. Although women were technically permitted to participate in many sports, relatively few did. There was often disapproval of those who did.

"Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." Susan B. Anthony said "I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride on a wheel. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

The modern Olympics had female competitors from 1900 onward, though women at first participated in considerably fewer events than men. Women first made their appearance in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900. That year, 22 women competed in tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian, and golf.[15] As of the IOC-Congress in Paris 1914 a woman's medal had formally the same weight as a man's in the official medal table. This left the decisions about women's participation to the individual international sports federations.[16] Concern over the physical strength and stamina of women led to the discouragement of female participation in more physically intensive sports, and in some cases led to less physically demanding female versions of male sports. Thus netball was developed out of basketball and softball out of baseball.

In response to the lack of support for women's international sport the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale was founded in France by Alice Milliat. This organization initiated the Women's Olympiad (held 1921, 1922 and 1923) and the Women's World Games, which attracted participation of nearly 20 countries and was held four times (1922, 1926, 1930 and 1934).[17] In 1924 the 1924 Women's Olympiad was held at Stamford Bridge in London. The International Olympic Committee began to incorporate greater participation of women at the Olympics in response. The number of Olympic women athletes increased over five-fold in the period, going from 65 at the 1920 Summer Olympics to 331 at the 1936 Summer Olympics.[18][19]

Most early women's professional sports leagues foundered. This is often attributed to a lack of spectator support. Amateur competitions became the primary venue for women's sports. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, Communist countries dominated many Olympic sports, including women's sports, due to state-sponsored athletic programs that were technically regarded as amateur. The legacy of these programs endured, as former Communist countries continue to produce many of the top female athletes. Germany and Scandinavia also developed strong women's athletic programs in this period.

United StatesEdit

Women's sports is given very high priority in U.S. from school itself.[20] Picture on left shows a U.S. high school girls' water polo team (with their male coaches in background) posing with their trophy. Picture on right shows a U.S. university girl practising a difficult gymnastics manoeuvre under the watchful eyes of her coach.

In 1972, the United States government implemented Title IX, a law stating that any federally funded program cannot discriminate anyone based on their sex.[20] Participation by women in sports increased dramatically after its introduction, amid fears that this new law would jeopardize men's sports programs.[20][21] Title IX has had a significant impact on athletics at the high school and collegiate level for female students. "In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. In 1966, 16,000 females competed in intercollegiate athletics. By 2001, that number jumped to more than 150,000, accounting for 43 percent of all college athletes. In addition, a 2008 study of intercollegiate athletics showed that women's collegiate sports had grown to 9,101 teams, or 8.65 per school".[22] Despite the implementation of Title IX, many high schools and colleges still have huge gender disparities based on sports. According to research done by National Women's Law Center in 2011,4500 public high schools across the nation have extremely high gender inequality and are violating the Title IX laws.[23] According to further research done by the Women's Law Center, schools with high number of minority students and a greater number of people of color mainly in southern states had a much higher rate of gender disparity. There is also a huge disparity regarding sport related scholarships for men and women, with men getting 190 million more in funding than women.[24] This pattern has persisted over a long period of time as, most colleges focus on their male athletics team and plow more money into them. This disparity shows the link between race and gender, and how it plays a significant role in the hierarchy of sports.[23]

In 1990, Bernadette Mattox became the first female Division I coach of a men's basketball team, serving as an assistant at the University of Kentucky. A year later, goaltender Jenny Hanley of Hamline University became the first woman to play on a men's college ice hockey team.[25] By 1994, the number of females playing sports in high school had increased threefold since Title IX was implemented, and ground was broken for the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, the first such hall of fame devoted exclusively to female athletes (though men can be, and have been, inducted in non-playing roles). In 1996 the number of female high school athletes reached 2.4 million, including 819 football players, 1164 wrestlers, and 1471 ice hockey players.[25]


Women's volleyball at Canada Summer Games, 2017.

Sports are a high priority in Canadian culture, but women were long relegated to second-class status. There were also regional differences, with the eastern provinces emphasizing a more feminine "girls rule" game of basketball, while the Western provinces preferred identical rules. Girls' and women's sport have traditionally been slowed down by a series of factors: both historically have low levels of interest and participation. There were very few women in leadership positions in academic administration, student affairs or athletics and not many female coaches. The media strongly emphasized men's sports as a demonstration of masculinity, suggesting that women seriously interested in sports were crossing gender lines with the male sports establishment actively hostile. Staunch feminists dismissed sports and thought of them as unworthy of their support. Women's progress was uphill; they first had to counter the common notion that women's bodies were restricted and delicate and that vigorous physical activity was dangerous. These notions where first challenged by the "new women" around 1900. These women started with bicycling; they rode into new gender spaces in education, work, and suffrage. The 1920s marked a breakthrough for women, including working-class young women in addition to the pioneering middle class sportswomen.[26]

United KingdomEdit

The United Kingdom has produced a range of major international sports including: association football, rugby (union and league), cricket, netball, darts, golf, tennis, table tennis, badminton, squash, bowls, rounders, modern rowing, hockey, boxing, snooker, billiards, and curling.[27] In the 19th century, women primarily participated in the "new games" which included golf, lawn tennis, cycling, and hockey. Now, women also participate at a professional/international level in football, rugby, cricket, and netball.

Since the late 1980s, Women In Sport,[28] a non-profit organization, has hoped to transform sport for the benefit of women and girls in the UK. Based in London, the organization's mission is to "champion the right of every woman and girl in the UK to take part in, and benefit from, sport: from the field of play to the boardroom, from early years and throughout her life".

21st centuryEdit

Heather Watson and Fu Yuanhui broke one of the last taboos in women's sport when both openly admitted they were menstruating, Watson after a self-described poor performance in a tennis match in 2015, and Yuanhui at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.[29][30]

In 1999, at the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final in Pasadena, California, after scoring the fifth kick in the penalty shootout to give the United States the win over China in the final game, Brandi Chastain celebrated by spontaneously taking off her jersey and falling to her knees in a sports bra.[31] While removing a jersey in celebration of a goal was common in men's soccer, it was a first in women's football at international level. The image of her celebration has been considered one of the more famous photographs of a woman celebrating an athletic victory.[32][33]

Muslim women in sportsEdit

The Muslim religion mostly beholds that women should be preserved with their identity and their customs. It was believed that women were not meant to be participating in sports that required short clothes and masculine power. Later the era of modernization took place and the gender inequality within the religion started disappearing (though it still happens) and women from all castes, races, religion came forward to participate. For example; the women's kabaddi team from Iran participates wearing hijab, preserving their religion and fulfilling their passion. Moreover, in countries like India the mindset has changed and a number of world class players like Sania Mirza for tennis, and Areeba Khan for shooting have chosen sports as their destination and have come forward to make the nation proud. Today, they are an idol for many aspiring females who chose to pursue career in sports but are not able to put the foot forward due to the prejudice set up by the society.

Adding to the fact that Muslim women have been involved in sport since Islam's beginning in the early 7th century and Muhammad's races with his wife Aisha. Modern Muslim female athletes have achieved success in a variety of sports, including volleyball, tennis, association football, fencing, and basketball. In the 2016 Olympics, fourteen Muslim women won medals, participating in a wide range of sports.

Still, Muslim women are underrepresented in athletic arenas, from school and amateur sports to international competitions. Causes may include cultural or familial pressures, the lack of suitable facilities and programs, and bans on the hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Muslim women have used sports as a means to empowerment, working towards health and wellbeing, women's rights, and education.

Current eventsEdit

Rugby sevens in the 2016 Rio Summer OlympicsEdit

For the first time ever rugby sevens was included as an Olympic sport at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.[34] The women's finals included both Australia and New Zealand with Australia winning the first Olympic gold medal with a 24–17 victory.[34] The 2016 Rio Olympic Games was the first time women participated in rugby.[35] Rugby was first played by men until the sport was taken out of the Olympics in 1924.[35]

United States: Title IXEdit

Implementation and regulationEdit

In 1972 the Congress passed the Title IX legislation as a part of the additional Amendment Act to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.[36] Title IX states that: "no person shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participating in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance...";[37] in other words, Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funds through grants, scholarships, or other support for students. The law states that federal funds can be withdrawn from a school engaging in intentional gender discrimination in the provision of curriculum, counseling, academic support, or general educational opportunities; this includes interscholastic or varsity sports.[38] This law from the Education Act requires that both male and female athletes have equal facilities and equal benefits. The equal benefits are the necessities such as equal equipment, uniforms, supplies, training, practice, quality in coaches and opponents, awards, cheerleaders and bands at the game.[37] In practice, the difficulty[according to whom?] with Title IX is making sure schools are compliant with the law. In 1979, there was a policy interpretation that offered three ways in which schools could be compliant with Title IX; it became known as the "three-part test".

  1. Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment. This prong of the test is satisfied when participation opportunities for men and women are "substantially proportionate" to their respective undergraduate enrollment.
  2. Demonstrating a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution has a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (typically female).
  3. Accommodating the interest and ability of the underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution is meeting the interests and abilities of its female students even where there are disproportionately fewer females than males participating in sports.

Although schools only have to be compliant with one of the three prongs, many schools have not managed to achieve equality. Many schools attempt to achieve compliance through the first prong; however, in order to achieve that compliance schools cut men's programs, which is not the way the OCR wanted compliance achieved.[39] Equity is not the only way to be compliant with Title IX; athletic departments need to show that they are making efforts to achieve parity in participation, treatment, and athletic financial assistance.[40]

Through implementation, Title IX provides equal opportunities for female students and athletes. However, Title IX did not fully define how governance will take place in regard to sports. Most sport teams or institutions, regardless of gender, are managed by male coaches and managers. This lack of women is because many institutions prefer a dominant male presence in order to preserve the traditional masculinity hegemony present in institutions and professional leagues, in relation to sports.[according to whom?] The societal norm of masculinity in connection to sports has hindered the growth of leaders in sports.[according to whom?] According to 2016 data, 33% of WNBA teams are led by women coaches or managers.[41] The International Olympic Committee also consists of 20% female members.[41] The data presented also showed that 15% of athletic directors in colleges nationwide were females, and that number is much less in the southern states.[41] Although Title IX was a breakthrough for women regarding funding and sport itself, the main goal is far from achieved. The disparity of men and women sport is prevalent and a significant one at that. The more alarming instance is the lack of female leadership in the sports world. The disparity will persist if the gap within leadership it not first fixed.[according to whom?]

Effect on women's sportsEdit

The main objective of Title IX is to make sure there is equal treatment in sports and school, regardless of sex, in a federally funded program. It was also used to provide protection to those who are being discriminated due to their gender.[42] However, Title IX is most commonly associated with its impact on athletics and more specifically the impact it has had on women's participation in athletics at every age. Today[when?] there are more females participating in athletics than ever before. As of the 2007–2008 school year, females made up 41% of the participants in college athletics.[43] To see the growth of women's sports, consider the difference in participation before the passing of Title IX and today. In 1971–1972 there were 294,015 females participating in high school athletics and in 2007–2008 there were over three million females participating, meaning there has been a 940% increase in female participation in high school athletics.[43]

In 1971–1972 there were 29,972 females participating in college athletics and in 2007–2008 there were 166,728 females participating, a 456% increase in female participation in college athletics.[43] In 1971, less than 300,000 females played in high school sports. After the law was passed many females started to get involved in sports. By 1990, eighteen years later, 1.9 million female high school students were playing sports.[36] Increased participation in sports has had a direct impact on other areas of women's lives; these effects can be seen in women's education and employment later on in life; a 2010 study found that the changes set in motion by Title IX explained about 20 percent of the increase in women's education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women.[44] This is not to say that all women who are successful later on in life played sports, but it is saying that women who did participate in athletics received benefits in their education and employment later on in life.[44]

In 1971, fewer than 295,000 girls participated in high school varsity athletics, accounting for just 7 percent of all varsity athletes; in 2001, that number leaped to 2.8 million, or 41.5 percent of all varsity athletes, according to the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.[citation needed] In 1966, 16,000 females competed in intercollegiate athletics. By 2001, that number jumped to more than 150,000, accounting for 43 percent of all college athletes. In addition, a 2008 study of intercollegiate athletics showed that women's collegiate sports had grown to 9,101 teams, or 8.65 per school. The five most frequently offered college sports for women are, in order: (1) basketball, 98.8% of schools have a team, (2) volleyball, 95.7%, (3) soccer, 92.0%, (4) cross country, 90.8%, and (5) softball, 89.2%. Since 1972, women have also competed in the traditional male sports of wrestling, weightlifting, rugby, and boxing. An article in the New York Times found that there are lasting benefits for women from Title IX: participation in sports increased education as well as employment opportunities for girls.[citation needed] Furthermore, the athletic participation by girls and women spurred by Title IX was associated with lower obesity rates. No other public health program can claim similar success.[45]

"However, as part of the backlash against the women's movement, opposition quickly organized against Title IX. Worried about how it would affect men's athletics, legislators and collegiate sports officials became concerned and looked for ways to limit its influence. One argument was that revenue-producing sports such as college football should be exempted from Title IX compliance. Another was that in order for schools and colleges to comply, they would have to cut men's sports such as wrestling. Others argued that federal legislation was not the way to achieve equality or even parity. Finally, conservative opponents of women's rights believed that feminists used Title IX as an all-purpose vehicle to advance their agenda in the schools. Since 1975, there have been twenty court challenges to Title IX in an attempt to whittle down greater gender equity in all fields of education—mirroring the ups and downs of the women's movement at large. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, female students received 1.3 million fewer opportunities to participate in high school athletics than their male peers in the 2006–2007 school years. Yet as a result of Title IX, women have benefited from involvement in amateur and professional sports and, in turn, sports are more exciting with their participation."[45]

In October 2018 Iran announced that, after 40 years, it will allow women to enter sport arenas[46]

Battle for equalityEdit

The 2012 London Olympics were the first games of their kind in which women competed in every sport.[47] The fight for women to gain equality on national levels and in professional leagues, in terms of pay and better funding, has continued; however sports still remain dominated by men, financially and globally. Gender remains a selective and primary factor in terms of determining if women are able-bodied as men and if they should get the same treatment in terms of sports.[48] It is often said[by whom?] that sports are a thing for men, and has become a stereotypical notion within society. Negative gender-based characteristics such as masculinity and femininity have been described as the deciding factor in order to play sports, and has often been held as justifiable dismissing sports equity.[49]

The pay gap in women sports is a controversial issue.[citation needed] Women athletes, in their respective fields, are often get paid far less than their male counterparts, and this has been true for a long time. The difference between the American men's and women's soccer teams' salaries serves as an example regarding pay inequality. Women on the U.S national team earned $99,000 per year, while men earned $263,320 if they were to win 20 exhibition matches.[50] There is a substantial gap in rewards in regards to winning the FIFA World Cup. The German men's national team earned 35 million dollars, while the American women's national team earned 2 million dollars after winning the World Cup.[50] The battle in equality for fair pay divulges in to other sports in which men earn far more than women. Golf is another sport which has a significant rising female presence. In 2014, the PGA tour awarded US $340 million in prize money for men's tournaments, compared to 62 million dollars awarded to the LPGA Tour.[51] Basketball is another sport which has surged in popularity in the last few decades and has significant female presence. In the United States, the NBA organizes top-level professional basketball competition for both sexes, with men playing in the NBA proper and women in the WNBA. A WNBA player's minimum salary is $38,000, while an NBA player's minimum salary is $525,000.[51] An average NBA player makes over $5 million while an average WNBA player makes $72,000.[24] Male athletes generate more revenue for their teams. However, when one compares the revenue earned to salary received, women athletes often get an extremely low[clarification needed] salary in comparison to the revenue they generate and their accomplishments. Although female athletes have come a long way since the establishment of professional sports, they still remain far behind in terms of pay (and ticket sales) and media coverage.[citation needed]

In September 2018, the World Surf League announced equal pay for both male and female athletes for all events. This decision has contributed to the conversation in the world of professional sports surrounding equality .

United StatesEdit

Players of Legends Football League do a warming up exercise, USA

Women make up 54% of enrollment at 832 schools that responded to an NCAA gender equity study in 2000; however, females at these institutions only account for 41% of the athletes. Before Title IX, 90% of women's college athletic programs were run by women, but by 1992 the number dropped to 42% since Title IX requires that there are equal opportunities for both genders.[36] This violates Title IX's premise that the ratio of female athletes to male athletes should be roughly equivalent to the overall proportion of female and male students.[52] Many of the issues today often revolve around the amount of money going into men's and women's sports. According to 2000–2001 figures, men's college programs still have many advantages over women's in the average number of scholarships (60.5%), operating expenses (64.5%), recruiting expenses (68.2%) and head coaching salaries (59.5%).[52] Other forms of inequality are in the coaching positions. Before Title IX, women coached 90% of women's teams; in 1978 that percentage dropped to 58, and in 2004 it dropped even more to 44 percent.[53] In 1972, women administered 90 percent of women's athletic programs, and in 2004 this fell to 19 percent. Also in 2004, 18 percent of all women's programs had no women administrators.[53] In 2004, there were 3,356 administrative jobs in NCAA women's athletic programs and of those jobs, women held 35 percent of them.[53]

The fight for equality extends to the wallet. On March 30, 2016, five players from the U.S. women's soccer team filed a federal complaint of wage discrimination against U.S. Soccer, the governing body that pays both the men’s and women’s team.[54] The complaint argues that U.S. Soccer pays players on the women’s team as little as forty percent of what it pays players on the men’s team. This pay discrepancy exists despite the fact that the women’s team has been much more successful in international competitions; the women’s team has won four Olympic gold medals and three of the last five Women’s World Cups, while the men’s team has never won either of these competitions.[55]


In Sweden, public funds are mostly given to men’s hockey and football, and the women’s team are left without proper funding. In 2016, Al Jazeera published an article bringing the discrimination that female Swedish athletes face to light by mentioning the double standard put on female athletes in terms of having to work double and still not receive the recognition or pay of the men’s teams. Sweden is recognized as being a feminist country, however the wage gap is significant between male and female athletes. In 2013, Swedish striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic earned $16.7 million a year playing for Paris Saint-German, whereas Lotta Schellin who played for Lyon in France only earned $239,720. The wage gap is also evident among coaches. The difference in pay is evident in how male athletes and female athletes are able to spend their time between games. Women often have to work between training and games to make a living and to pay for their training camps, whereas men have that time to recuperate and relax; men also don’t pay to attend training camps.[56]


Norwegian sports are shaped by the values associated with them. For example, aggression generally is associated with males and being personable, with females. However, in terms of Norwegian handball, a study done by the Norwegian School of Sports and Sciences shows that gender is disregarded when the sport is covered in the media. The same study revealed that Women’s handball is covered and followed as equally if not more than the men’s team. In contrast to international handball coverage, the Norwegian coverage of Men’s and Women’s handball are discussed in the media using the same or similar verbiage. While they are especially noticeable in handball, equality and opportunity in Norwegian sports is not limited to the handball. Many top-female athletes from a number of sports have come from Norway. The act of playing or coaching were described slightly differently but categorized as successful using similar terms despite the gender of the coach or the player.[57]

Muslim worldEdit

Sania Mirza, a former world No. 1 in women's tennis doubles, is an Indian Muslim.

Muslim women are less likely to take part in sport than Western non-Muslims.[58] This is particularly so for women in Arab societies. The traditions of Islamic modesty in dress and requirements for women's sport to take place in a single-sex environment make sports participation more difficult for devout female adherents. The lack of availability of suitably modest sports clothing and sports facilities that allow women to play in private contributes to the lack of participation. Cultural norms of women's roles and responsibilities towards the family may also be a source of discouragement from time-consuming sports practice.[59][60]

However, Islamic tenets and religious texts suggest that women's sports in general should be promoted and are not against the values of the religion. The Quranic statements that followers of Islam should be healthy, fit and make time for leisure are not sex-specific. The prophet Muhammad is said to have raced his wife Aisha on several occasions, with Aisha beating him the first couple of times. Correspondingly, some scholars have proposed that Muslim women's lack of engagement with sport is due to cultural or societal reasons, rather than strictly religious ones.[59][60]

However, besides religious testaments, there are many barriers for Muslim women in relation to sports participation. A significant barrier to Muslim women's sports participation is bans on the Islamic headscarf, commonly known as the hijab.[61] FIFA instituted such a ban in 2011, preventing the Iranian women's national football team from competing.[61] They have since repealed the ban, but other organizations, including FIBA, maintain such regulations.[62] At the same time, many Muslim female athletes have achieved significant success in athletic competitions. Some have also used sports towards their own empowerment, working for women's rights, education, and health and wellbeing.[63][64][65]

Iranian women were banned from attending a volleyball game and an Iranian girl was arrested for attending a match. Iran was given the right to host the International Beach Volleyball tournament, and many Iranian women were looking forward to attending the event. However, when the women tried to attend the event, they were disallowed, and told it was forbidden to attend by the FIVB. The women took to social media to share their outrage; however the Federation of International Beach volleyball refuted the accusations, saying it was a misunderstanding.[66] This is one of the instances of unfair treatment of women, trying to participate in supporting their teams in Iran.

World conferencesEdit

In 1994, the International Working Group on Women and Sport organized the first World Conference on Women and Sport in Brighton, United Kingdom, where the Brighton Declaration was published. The IWG hosted further world conferences every four years, with the result of the Windfoek Call for Action (1998), Montreal Tool Kit (2002) and Brighton Plus Helsinki 2014 Declaration (2014). The conferences pretend to "develop a sporting culture that enables and values the full involvement of women in every aspect of sport and physical activity", by "increas[ing] the involvement of women in sport at all levels and in all functions and roles".[67]

Media coverageEdit

Spectators and media personnel take photos even as Brazil's Ágatha Bednarczuk hugs her support staff after winning a women's beach volleyball match in 2016 Summer Olympics.

Media coverage for women's sports is significantly less than the coverage for men's sports. In 1989, a study was conducted that recorded and compared the amount of media coverage of men and women's sports on popular sports commentary shows.[citation needed] Michael Messner and his team in 2010 analyzed three different two-week periods by recording the amount of time that the stories were on air and the content of the stories. After recording sports news and highlights, they wrote a quantitative description of what they saw and a qualitative description of the amount of time that story received.[68]

During that first year that the research was conducted in 1989, it was recorded that 5% of the sports segments were based on women's sports, compared to the 92% that were based on men's sports and the 3% that was a combination of both. In 1999, women's sports coverage reached an all-time high when it was recorded at 8.7%. It maintained its higher percentages until it reached an all-time low in 2009, decreasing to 1.6%. The researchers also measured the amount of time that women's sports were reported in the news ticker, the strip that displays information at the bottom of most news broadcasts. When recorded in 2009, 5% of ticker coverage was based on women's sports, compared to the 95% that was based on men's sports. These percentages were recorded in order to compare the amount of media coverage for each gender.

When researching the actual amount of time that women's sports stories were mentioned, they focused specifically on differences between the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women's National Basketball Association. They recorded two different time periods: when they were in season and when they were off-season. The WNBA had 8 stories, totaling 5:31 minutes, during their season, which was less than the NBA, which had a total of 72 stories, totaling approximately 65:51 minutes. During the off-season, the WNBA did not receive any stories or time on the ticker, while the NBA received a total of 81, which were approximately 50:15 minutes. When compared, the WNBA had a total of 8 stories and 5:31 minutes while the NBA had 153 stories and 1:56:06 hours. The actual games had several differences in the way the games were presented. The findings were that WNBA games had lower sound quality, more editing mistakes, fewer views of the shot clock and fewer camera angles. There was less verbal commentary and visual statistics about the players throughout the games as well.[69] The quality of the stories has also significantly changed. In past studies, women were sexualized, portrayed as violent, or portrayed as girlfriends, wives and mothers. Female athletes were often included in gag stories that involved sexual dialogue or emphasized their bodies. In Australia, the wives of the men's cricket team members were given more media coverage than the players on the women's cricket team, who also had won more games than the men's rugby team.[70] In 2009, SportsCenter broadcast segments called "Her Story", which was a commentary that highlighted women's athletic careers.[71]

In newspapers articles, coverage on men's sports once again had a greater number of articles than women's sports in a ratio of 23–1. In 1990, a study was conducted that recorded and compared the amount of media coverage of men and women's sports on popular newspapers. They analyzed four different sports magazines for three months and recorded the number of women's sports stories that were featured and the content of the stories. Women's sports made up 3.5%, compared to the 81% of men's coverage. The lengths of these articles were 25–27% shorter than the length of men's articles.[72] There was an international frenzy in 2012 when the first woman that represented Saudi Arabia in the 2012 Olympics competed in track. That was the most women's sports coverage that there had been in several years.Women played 90 minutes of football, 80 minutes of rugby, 18 holes of golf and ran the same distance in a marathon as men[citation needed] Exactly 12 months later, the newspapers returned to featuring 4% of articles on women's sports.[73] This same trend can be seen with regards to the FIFA World Cup. The 2015 Women’s World Cup Final had an average of 25.4 million American viewers throughout the duration of the match, and peaked at 30.9 million viewers.[74] It was the most-viewed game of soccer ever in the United States–men’s or women’s–by a margin of almost 7 million viewers. Despite this jump in viewership of women’s soccer in the U.S., television broadcasting of the women’s professional soccer league in the U.S. remained much lower than that of the men’s league. Fox Sports Network (the company that owns the rights to broadcast the National Women’s Soccer League) broadcast 3 regular season NWSL games and 34 Major League Soccer regular-season games during the 2016 seasons.

Amy Godoy-Pressland conducted a study that investigated the relationship between sports reporting and gender in Great Britain. She studied Great Britain's newspapers from January 2008 to December 2009 and documented how media coverage of men's sports and women's sports was fairly equal during the Olympics and then altered after the Olympics were over. "Sportswomen are disproportionately under-represented and the sheer quantity and quality of news items on sportsmen demonstrates how male athletes are represented as dominant and superior to females." She also documented how women's bodies were sexualized in photographs and written coverage, noting that the women featured were either nude, semi-nude, or wearing revealing clothing. "The sexualization of sportswomen in Sunday reporting is commonplace and aimed at the mostly male readership. It promotes the idea of female aesthetics over achievements, while the coverage of women not directly involved in sport misrepresents the place of women in sport and inferiorizes real sportswomen's achievements."[75] The media has the ability to create or prevent interest in women's sports. Excluding women's sports from the media makes it much less likely for young girls to have role models that are women athletes.[76] According to Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota 40% of all athletes in the United States are women but women's sports only receive about 4% of sports media coverage.[77] This amount of coverage has decreased in the last 20 years although there has been a major increase in women athletes.

Media coverage has slightly increased and this is mostly due to social networking.[citation needed] Social media has further exposed women sports out to the public world, and often at a much greater rate than traditional news media. Traditional media has also improved its coverage of women's sports through more exposure time and using better equipment to record the events. Recent research has shown that in the past twenty years, camera angles, slow motion replays, quality and graphics regarding the presentation of women sports has gradually improved.[78] However, mainstream media still is far behind in its showcasing of female sports in comparison to that of men's. A study has shown that ESPN, which began airing women NCAA tournament in 2003, aired eleven women tournament segments in comparison to one-hundred men's tournament segments.[78] ESPN and other sports outlets are airing more female-oriented sporting events; however the length of the segments are very small. This representative data is showcases a main part of the minimal interaction the media has with women athletes. Media coverage of women sports in the United States has further justified the divisional hierarchy faced by women athletes in terms of popularity and coverage. Scholarly studies (Kane, M. J., LaVoi, N. M., Fink, J. S. (2013) also show that when women athletes were given the option to pick a photo of a picture that would increase respect for their sport, they picked an on-the-court competency picture. However, when women athletes were told to pick a picture that would increase interest in their sport, 47% picked a picture that sexualized the women athlete.[79] The UK is more representative than the United States with the BBC giving women's sports about 20% of their sports coverage (BBC spokesperson). Many women athletes in the UK do not see this as adequate coverage for the 36% of women who participate in sports.[80]


Girls' and boys' participation rates in sports vary by country and region. In the United States, nearly all schools require student participation in sports, guaranteeing that all girls were exposed to athletics at an early age, which was generally not the case in Western Europe and Latin America.[81] In intramural sports, the genders were often mixed, though for competitive sports the genders remained segregated. Title IX legislation required colleges and universities to provide equal athletic opportunities for women. This large pool of female athletes enabled the U.S. to consistently rank among the top nations in women's Olympic sports, and female Olympians from skater Peggy Fleming (1968) to Mary Lou Retton (1986) became household names.[citation needed]

Tennis was the most-popular professional female sport from the 1970s onward,[citation needed] and it provided the occasion for a symbolic "battle of the sexes" between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, enhancing the profile of female athletics.[citation needed] The success of women's tennis, however, did little to help the fortunes of women's professional team sports.[citation needed]

Women's professional team sports achieved popularity for the first time in the 1990s, particularly in basketball and football (soccer).[citation needed] This popularity has been asymmetric, being strongest in the U.S., certain European countries and former Communist states.[citation needed] Thus, women's soccer was originally dominated by the U.S., China, and Norway, who have historically fielded weak men's national teams. However,[when?] several nations with strong and even dominant men's national teams, such as Germany, Sweden, and Brazil, have established themselves as women's powers.[citation needed] Despite this increase in popularity, women's professional sports leagues continue to struggle financially. The WNBA is operated at a loss by the NBA,[citation needed] perhaps in the hope of creating a market that will eventually be profitable. A similar approach is used to promote women's boxing, as women fighters are often undercards on prominent male boxing events, in the hopes of attracting an audience.[citation needed]

The National Women's Hockey League is an American women's professional ice hockey league, and the United Women's Lacrosse League is an American professional women's lacrosse league; both were established in 2015.

Today, women compete professionally and as amateurs in virtually every major sport, though the level of participation typically decreases when it comes to the more violent contact sports; few schools have women's programs in American football, boxing or wrestling.[citation needed]There are exceptions to this, such as the Utah Girls Football League and Professional Girl Wrestling Association. However, these typical non-participation habits may slowly be evolving as more women take real interest in the games, for example Katie Hnida became the first woman ever to score points in a Division I NCAA American football game when she kicked two extra-points for the University of New Mexico in 2003.[citation needed]

Modern sports have seen the development of a higher profile for female athletes in other historically male sports, such as golf, marathons or ice hockey.[citation needed]These significant participation rise, has allowed more women to participate in traditionally male dominated sports and increased the sports popularity globally.[citation needed]

As of 2013, the only sports that men, but not women play professionally in the United States are football, baseball, and Ultimate Frisbee. Although basketball, soccer and hockey have female sports leagues, they are far behind in terms of exposure and funding compared to the men's teams.[citation needed]

Recently[when?] there has been much more crossover as to which sports males and females participate in, although there are still some differences. For example, at the 1992 Winter Olympics, both genders were allowed to participate in the sport of figure skating, previously a female-only sporting event. However, the programs for the event required men to perform three triple jumps, and women only one.

Further readingEdit

  • Dong Jinxia: Women, Sport and Society in Modern China: Holding Up More Than Half the Sky, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0-7146-8214-4
  • Allen Guttmann: Women's Sports: A History, Columbia University Press 1992, ISBN 0-231-06957-X
  • Helen Jefferson Lenskyj: Out of Bounds: Women, Sport and Sexuality. Women's Press, 1986.
  • Helen Jefferson Lenskyj: Out on the Field: Gender, Sport and Sexualities. Women's Press, 2003.
  • The Nation: Sports Don't Need Sex To Sell – NPR, Mary Jo Kane – August 2, 2011
  • Else Trangbaek & Arnd Krüger (eds.): Gender and Sport from European Perspectives. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen 1999

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External linksEdit