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Gender equality in sports: Pioneers and competitions

Copyrights: UN Women

Gender equality in sports: Pioneers and competitions

This year's FIFA Women's World Cup has set a new high for women's football, but there is still more to be done to break through the glass ceiling. We take a moment to commend individual athletes who have led the charge for gender equality in sport, and recent competitions achieving balanced representation.

What do Kathrine Switzer, Billie Jean King, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and Ada Hegerberg have in common? Not only are these all athletes who have achieved extraordinary success as professionals in their respective sports, but what is also extraordinary, is that they have used this success to become beacons of light for gender equality.

Kathrine Switzer created a stir being the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon in 1967. Billie Jean King has not only cemented her name in the tennis world forever with 39 grand slam titles in singles and doubles, but also for her tireless efforts to fight for social justice and women’s equality in sports. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, known for their skills on the pitch, sued the US Soccer Federation over pay equity and working conditions. Ada Hegerberg, the Norwegian football superstar and the first ever female winner of the Ballon D’or, is notably absent from this World Cup as she is fighting the battle of gender inequality with the Norwegian Football Federation. All of these icons have blazed a trail for change vis-à-vis gender equality in professional sports, but what progress is currently being made?

According to the website of the Olympic Committee, the Youth Olympic Games held in Buenos Aires last October was said to be “the first fully gender-balanced Olympic event ever” and the forecast for the Games in 2020 is almost 49 percent female representation. Prior to that, in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, it was the first time that every country had at least one female participant. FIFA and U.N. Women have also done their part by signing the first ever Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) “to realise gender equality for women on and off the pitch.

Of the numerous professional sports, tennis emerges as the star for awarding equal prize money to men and women since 2007. Other professional sports that have reportedly followed suit are volleyball, skating, taekwondo and diving.

Of significance too, is that viewership in this particular Women’s World Cup has broken records as reported by television channels in various countries. Moreover, for the first time, BBC is giving the women’s tournament the same editorial backing it gives the men. These are incredibly positive strides which have taken a long time to be achieved. Yet, there is so much more to be done.

It is 2019 and the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, Ada Hegerberg and many athletes in professional sports are still awaiting their due. What can be done to keep the momentum going or move progress along at a quicker pace?

Start by empowering girls at the grassroots level by allowing them to play the same sports as boys; provide more opportunities for female athletes to get sponsorships; put more women in leadership roles and provide far more media exposure of women’s sports. If this World Cup is anything to go by, women will continue to distinguish themselves in professional sports. It is only fair that they be rewarded for their skill and talent just as men are.


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Rachael David


Tuesday, June 25, 2019 - 13:35