Part 1: Equality in Sports?
This post was originally titled, ‘Should We Encourage Women to Play Sports?’ This title was scrapped because the question is too facetious: obviously I think everyone should play more sports. The question is not interesting in itself, but the answer starts the inquisitive ball rolling down a path that leads quickly to territory usually ignored. That territory will be surveyed , and a scouting report delivered, sportsvssports style, right here over the next couple of weeks.
The question obviously begged by any reasonable answer to my initial question is ‘How should we do so?’ From the first to the second question, the answers become contentious. Children have been enrolling in sports at a declining rate, although the decline is less for young girls than it is for older children or similar aged boys. Enrollment in Olympic sport clubs tends to rise and fall in relation to how recent Olympics were, and the rise in popularity of basketball among women certainly suggests that media exposure and ‘big league’ treatment influence children’s choices.
It would seem then that encouraging girls to participate in school can be done through mass media marketing. Another method is by offering tax incentives for sports participation, which is likely an effective remedy of one barrier, but does not affect the child’s interest. Without getting sidetracked with a debate about the tax incentive’s effectiveness, we can all agree that motivation to participate in sport is what we want to encourage, and where the biggest gains in actual participation can be made. School seems like a natural place to be exposed to different sports, and given basic instruction in them. For many if not most of us, school is where we first played the majority of sports, with only ‘big league’ team sports being played at the neighbourhood park, or on the road.
The largest body of data ever accumulated around the participation of women in sports was gathered about women in NCAA sports. It showed that when the US college system applied ‘Title IX’ rules, around 1972, female participation grew and continued to grow through 2000, when the number of women participating in American college sports surpassed 150,000, a 372% increase from the year before Title IX was put in place. Title IX is a set of rules attached to federal college funding (meager though it is, compared with state post-secondary funding throughout the rest of the developed world), set up to deal with academic gender discrimination, but which also stipulates essentially that colleges must provide and fund women’s teams for each sport in which they have a men’s team (excepting football).
Not surprisingly, the sport which benefits the most from this situation is the NCAA’s other big money sport, basketball. In other words, it is reasonable to suggest, if not quite obviously fact that, NCAA gender-equality rules allowed basketball to grow amongst women. The rules allowed that growth to continue within a certain institution, and therefore age group, for decades, and eventually this growth led to a women’s big-league. Has the popularization of women’s hoops culminated in the WNBA? Was said popularization better developed along different lines, with the WNBA a male-centric road-block? Has the WNBA made basketball more popular among girls, or did girls’ interest in basketball (encouraged by Title IX) force the NBA to speculatively create its female counterpart?
Feel free to answer those questions for me in the comments section, or ask others, while I prepare part 2 of this series. Part 2 will focus on other sports, where there is precedent for women’s pro leagues, women in men’s pro leagues, and all sorts of dangerously explosive fodder. Picture of a young woman in skimpy clothing guaranteed.