The 2012 London Oylmpics was billed as the “women’s olympics”. For the first time ever women made up half the competition and represented every county competing at the games. As we look back at London, it’s worth asking, how far have we come when it comes to women and sport?
There’s no doubt that women have historically and significantly had less financial and institutional support; participation in major games like the Olympics has been lower than men’s up until now and in general women’s sport gets much less coverage. It’s undeniable that the athletic feats of women are underrated – it seems men are considered better at sport and more exciting to watch.
This is slowly changing however. Women are taking many higher positions when it comes to sport. For example, Australia’s Sports Minister is Canberra’s own Kate Lundy. Women are now entering the boards of some of Australia’s top sporting agencies, such as Sam Mostyn at the AFL Commission, Catherine Harris at the NRL Commission, and Alisa Camplin, who is not only an Olympic Gold Medallist, but also an Australian Sports Commission board member and director of the Collingwood Football club.
Women sports players are also making a more obvious impact on the national sporting scene. US Open Champion, Samantha Stosur is now probably one of Australia’s best known sports people, whilst Sally Pearson and Anna Meares were probably Australia’s two highest-profile gold-medal winners in the London Olympics. Potentially more importantly, for the first time in a number of years, it was a woman, Canberra’s own Lauren Jackson, who was Australia’s flag-bearer in the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Queer women are also leading the way when it comes to the promotion of GLBTI sports people. 19 out of the 22 out gay and lesbian sportspeople in the Olympics were women, including Australia’s beach volleyball played Natalie Cook. In 1981 women’s tennis player Martina Navratilova took a world leader in coming out. Navratilova is probably the most successful out sports player in the history of sporting competition.
New women’s dominated sports are starting to get traction as well. For example, Roller Derby is probably Australia’s largest growing sport, with women taking it up around the country. Following in the footsteps of sports such as netball, roller derby is designed not only to be a great sport, but also as a safe space for women. In doing so it is challenging much of the male-domination of sport, putting women at the forefront of the game.
These are all great achievements for women in sport, but we still have a way to go. When you flick on the TV, it is unlikely that you are going to see women playing sport; you get men’s AFL, men’s rugby, or men’s basketball. Women also continue to earn much less than men, with a recent survey showing that just 2% of coverage goes to purely female sports, and only 0.5% of sponsorship.
And then there is the question of sexism in sport and you have to ask yourself ‘is women’s sport overlooked because of the physical disparities between the sexes, or because of something else?’ Perhaps it isn’t that women can’t jump further or run faster than men that’s the problem.
In a recent interview, Katherine Legge, an American IndyCar driver said “there is absolutely no physical barrier to a woman driving the most prestigious vehicle of them all, a Forumula One car” and she believes racing is “the only sport in the world where women can compete with men on an equal footing”. But no woman has ever been given the chance in an F1 competitive car. So if there isn’t a physical barrier, what’s the problem?
It seems the underlying assertion that playing, watching or even writing about sport somehow makes women “less feminine” may be the real crux of the issue and it’s no coincidence that the more traditionally attractive women at the championships, the likes of Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, get greater media attention.
We’ve made some great progress in women’s sport and London 2012 was a terrific launchpad that was so desperately needed, but it’s obvious that more still needs to be done, so get out there and support women in sport!