User:WatsonS/Women in Sport

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Women in Sport in an ongoing topic of interest, and over the past decade we have witness women being a part of our elite sporting teams as coaches, trainers, managers and physiotherapist. However we are now finding women taking control and leading many of our countries government sporting businesses (Stell, 1991). This journal piece will explore many aspects within the Women in Sport status. It will address and give detail to the history of women in sport. We will show the development and the current success of Women in Australia and international sport, not only on field athletes but those in successful organisations. Finally it will elucidate two of the political issues involved in women in sport.


Women’s 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 (Affairs, 2007).

Between the 18th and 19th century women’s sport was practically non- existent (Rostkowska, 2007). The only form of physical activity that women in this time experienced was those identified as leisure. Such activities as marbles, skipping and puzzles were the most common recreational activities that women were involved in (Stell, 1991). In the mid 18 hundreds swimming soon became popular and women were draw to this new and exciting idea, and in those days swimming pools were known as baths. In every ‘bath’ around the country women and men were allocated different swimming times and as expected women did not receive equal access. In addition to this, women were still bound by the fashion of the day, which stipulated neck to knee woollen costumes (Commission A. S.). As time passed more and more women learnt to swim, and in 1881 swimming races were organised in the hope that society would accept the idea of sporting events for women (Stell, 1991). In 1912 women’s swimming had a major boost when Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie took out the 100m freestyle gold and silver medals respectively at the Stockholm Olympics. This was the first ever swimming event open to women at an Olympic Games (Commission A. S.). It was shown that in those days society’s belief was that a female participating in athletic behaviour was both ‘unladylike’ and potentially hazardous to their reproductive lives (Bower, 2007).

In the 1930 women and sport lobby groups began to spring up around the country. High on their agenda was the need for more women’s sports ground. Fanned by a new wave of confident and empowered women fresh from university, women’s sports began a new era, played, administered and promoted by women for women (Rostkowska, 2007).

The sports between 1950 and 1970 that grew for women were tennis, golf and squash. These were seen as the most ‘ladylike’ sports on offer. This was the era that saw the rise of innovative administrators like Heather McKay (Squash), Gertrude McLeod (golf) and Margaret Court (tennis) (Commission A. S.). A memorial moment came in 1968 when Enriquetta Basilio became the first female to ever light the Olympic cauldron. This was part of the 19th Olympic Games held in Mexico City, and was identified as a moment that changed history for ever (Rostkowska, 2007).

A new ear began in the 1980’s, especially for Australian athletes, because in 1984 the Australian Institute of Sport opened in Canberra. This enabled both male and female athletes to get the expert training needed to gain a podium finish at international events. It was the chance for women to further develop their skills alongside men (Commission A. S.). Since the opening of the AIS Australia has developed some of the greatest and most inspiring women athletes in the world.

Leadership for Women[edit]

Women have made tremendous strides, entering the world of professional sports as both participants and front office leaders. However, that does not mean women are equally represented in these front office staff. Over the years women have been participating in sport in greater numbers and have a greater interest in sport. These increased opportunities to participate will hopefully translate into increased opportunities to lead professional sport organizations (Bower, 2007).

Do you recognise these names – Anita DeFrantz, Babe Didrickson, Billie Jean King and Pat Summit? Well these women have emerged as not only great sporting athletes but as advocates, coaches and top executives in sport throughout the United States. Although women such as these are now at the forefront of the sport industry, this has not always been the case. Historically in all countries women had been excluded from educational opportunities, sport opportunities, and career opportunities. In Germany for example 34% of leadership roles are held by women and in Norway less than 20% of leading positions are held by women (Bower, 2007). Through the years many laws and the general acceptance from society have provided a growth for the equal opportunities for women in all areas in the sporting industry. Although the playing field in not yet level, significant progress has been made. More female athletes compete today than ever before. Women are accepting leadership roles in all facets of the sport industry as athletic directors, coaches, CEO’s, general managers, athletics trainers, and journalists. Although the number of women holding top leadership positions in sport is underrepresented, substantial and noteworthy progress is in the works. Furthermore, the progress made by women in sport leadership creates visible role models, enables women’s voices, and opens up opportunities for women to have a greater impact and influence in the sporting industry as well as in society (Bower, 2007).

So where do female leaders come from? Are they born or made? One train of thought is that leaders are made, and one path people may use to home their leadership skills is through sport. Teamwork, winning and losing, social skills and responsibilities are lessons learned by playing sport (Stewart, 2004). There are obviously many qualifications that you can gain from educational experiences however research has shown that 85% of the qualifications needed to become a successful leader come from participating in sport. Such skills include, creating an understanding of teamwork and loyalty, builds confidence, teaches you how to fail and recover, builds competitive spirit and builds courage (Bower, 2007). These skills are found in both male and female athletes, so why do males still have the upper edge in our sporting industry?

A number of initiatives are being implemented to give women the chance to be leaders, improve their confidence, increase their self-awareness and strengthen their capacities in terms of decision-making, critical thinking and negotiating. One such project is from the Australian Sports Commission who have set up a program title ‘the sport leadership grants’. These grants were set up to provide financial support for women who endeavour to get the extra skills and education needed to gain a leading role in the sporting industry (Commission). They are offered to women, who have been, or still are involved in sport and who wish to push through and start a career in the industry (Commission A. S.).

Political Issues[edit]


Television, magazines, movies, newspapers, billboards, and the internet are all powerful creators of the 'desirable' woman. They reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes with which we compare the reality of our own body. Similarities between the 'ideal' and our own bodies are commended and differences are considered unattractive (Commision, 2008/2009). Visual images of the 'ideal' woman are used to sell everything from cars to ice cream and sport is no different. This commoditisation of the female body can lead women to identify their physical appearance as a type of currency – personal worth or value as measured by body type (Commision, 2008/2009). When we see female athletes in the media, almost 45% of them are portrayed in a sexual way (Commision, 2008/2009). Why? For the past decade female athletes both domestically and internationally have been portrayed in the media through there looks and body image, of cause the main focus of the newspaper articles and interviews are on their true athletic ability and success, however it is very rare that the media only focuses on this part (Commision, 2008/2009). Let use Stephanie Rice as an example. We all know she is an incredible swimmer for Australia and having won 3 Olympic gold medals she has found herself surrounded and confronted by media all the time. However all the promotion and media attention she has done has all been subjected around her looks and personal appearance (Stewart, 2004). You wonder if Steph was less attractive would she have gotten the amount of attention that she did. This is an issue evident in sport as a whole industry, however more women than men are likely to be targeted for this type of promotion. Women are offered large amounts of money to ‘bare all’ and promote a particular brand. This idea of marketing women in a sexual way is becoming part of the future and is almost expected to happen with all ‘attractive’ female athletes (Affairs, 2007).


Consistent and positive media coverage is one of the prime goals of all sports administrators and players. The reason for this is simple. Sport and the media are two of the most powerful influences that affect how society works. They are also intertwined in that both affect how people think and shape ideas and emotions. Consistent media coverage can benefit a sport in a number of ways. It can provide a visual profile, create positive role models and, by increasing spectator appeal, help attract lucrative sponsorship opportunities for the sport. How the media portrays a particular sport or athlete can also impact on both the sport and/or the athlete’s credibility.

As women what do we want from the media? It is simple, a level playing field and equal opportunities. In 2008 the coverage of women’s sport was only 9% of all sport coverage in Australia. While male sports took out 81% of all coverage. In the same study it was shown that the only sport that women received equal media attention was tennis (Commision, 2008/2009). Let’s take an international look from the 2008 Olympics, in rowing, US women won two medals to the one for US men, yet received less than one third as much media coverage. Also in the US the NBC broadcasting program aired nearly 24 minutes of men’s weightlifting, although no US men gained a medal. By comparison, two US women weightlifters won a gold and a bronze medal, but their success warranted no prime time coverage (Commision, 2008/2009). A big reason for the lack of women’s sport in the media is money. The financial funding that sports get from the government go towards training equipment, uniforms, tours and many other aspect. To get the media to promote and broadcast their sport would result in losing out on other essential needs of the sport (Stewart, 2004). Another reason is the popularity; if a television program air’s a female sporting game/event will it get the enough hits to warrant that time slot? Free to air and foxtel programs don’t want to experiment on viewing unknown women’s sports, as this would result in loss of money and time. So how can we help, or is anything already being down? A program called womensport is a non government organisation, which are representing women and helping to improve the media coverage of women. They have initiated research that also helps further build the picture of media coverage of women’s sport. Their focus is not only aimed at National and International events, they also want to push for local and state competitive events to get the attention they deserve. This is a very slow and extensive process, however to see campaigns and programs like this who are out there giving women the opportunities they deserve is the real key (Affairs, 2007).


As we have shown, Women in sport is a very broad and in depth topic within the business politics and sport subject. There are many areas across the subject that can be addressed. The particular sections that have been spoken about throughout this essay are that of the history, the development of women in leadership roles and we also addressed two of the most identified political issues surrounding women in sport, body image and the media. The lesson we have learnt through this essay is that the right for equal opportunities for women is still an uphill battle and even tho there are programs, campaigns and support out there for women, the gap between male and females in the sporting industry will always be there. The important fact is that we are aware of the issue and knowing this is a great start to help aid and improve the women the in sport status.


Affairs, D. o. (2007). Women and beyond. Women, gender equality and sport , 1-40.

Bower, M. H. (2007). Women as Leaders in Sport: Impact and Influence. Oxon Hill: AAHPERD Publications.

Commision, A. S. (2008/2009). Towards a level playing field. Sport and gender in Australian Media , 1-48.

Commission, A. S. (n.d.). A history of women and Sport in Australia. Retrieved October 12, 2011, from

Commission, A. S. (n.d.). Women in Sport grants. Retrieved August 31, 2011, from

Rostkowska, E. (2007). Women in Sport. A historical outline and contemporary social and physiological issues , 169 - 174.

Stell, M. k. (1991). Half the Race: A history of Australian women in Sport. Sydney, NSW: Collins Angus & Robertson Publishers.

Stewart, B. (2004). Australian Sport. Milton Park: Routledge Publisher.