The integrity of women’s sports must be made a priority

Female athletes must be given equal opportunities to succeed

Credit: 
Supplied by Kelsey McHugh

Sports have never been played on an even field.

For college basketball fans, March is synonymous with March Madness. All Division 1 teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) compete in the revered championship tournament. Coverage usually consists of the highlights. However, the focus this year is on the NCAA's mistreatment of its female athletes.

When female athletes arrived at the tournament bubble in San Antonio, Texas, they were greeted with a slew of lacklustre amenities. Their single stack of dumbbells paled in comparison to the state-of-the-art weight room for the men’s teams. Worse, the women's teams were also served smaller meals and screened for COVID-19 using antigen tests, both inferior to what the NCAA provided to the male teams and their coaching staffs.

These egregious disparities rightfully went viral on social media. 

The NCAA's VP of Women's Basketball, Lynn Holzman, reacted to the allegations by blaming a "lack of rooms" for their insufficient facilities. These arguments were quickly debunked in a viral Tik Tok by a University of Oregon player named Sedona Price, who reminded viewers that "if you aren't upset about this issue, you are a part of it."

Undervaluing their female athletes is nothing new for the NCAA. As an organization, it’s complicit in the perpetuation of sexist ideals that hurt women-identifying athletes. It doesn’t prioritize protecting the integrity of women’s sport, leaving its talented women deprived of various developmental and financial opportunities.

The numbers speak for themselves. The Tucker Center for Girls and Women in Sport reported that 40 per cent of professional athletes identify as female, despite receiving just 4 per cent of all televised coverage. The NCAA also reserves 67 per cent of its recruiting budget for male athletes at the collegiate level, making their priorities no secret.

The NCAA’s pervasive financial bias reflects a blatant disregard for how much time and effort these women have dedicated to their craft. Society cannot expect female athletes to succeed when their athletic integrity is consistently violated.

It’s undeniable that male sports have more commercial success; they draw huge audiences and have a proclivity to attract lucrative sponsors. However, equitable treatment for athletes should be a right rather than a privilege earned through economic profits.

A disparity has long plagued female athletes and their leagues. While most male athletes in the NBA, NFL, and NHL live comfortably on million-dollar contracts, even the best female athletes are never afforded the same luxury.

In both 2015 and 2019, the US Women's National Soccer Team won the Women's World Cup and outperformed their male counterparts. Their success has generated more revenue than their male counterparts, yet female players can only earn up to $99,000 annually, compared to the maximum of  $263,320 for men. It’s no wonder the 2019 team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation. 

Critics will argue that equal pay and recognition can only happen if women's sports achieve similar popularity to their male counterparts. This is unfair given how most female teams are deprived of media exposure and meaningful sponsorship opportunities. Female athletes have worked just as tirelessly to achieve their status, but their visibility is consistently squandered. 

The negative perceptions surrounding women's sports also limit potential growth. Female athletes are not of a lower caliber than men; comparing the intensity in their games is an exercise in futility given the stark biological differences between sexes.  Considering that 84 per cent of sports fans are interested in engaging with female teams, it is also inaccurate to assume the public has no interest in women's sports. The truth must be louder than the lies.

Female athletes are also challenged on their gender identity. In the limited coverage they do receive, athletes are often over-sexualized or mocked for not conforming to the idealized female physique. Transgender women also experienced extensive scrutiny and invalidation, leaving them with few good options when pursuing their athletic dreams.

While the world of women's sports is slowly improving, there is no excuse to be idle.  Important stakeholders in the athletics industry must examine how their decisions and actions have stunted the growth of all female sports. The burden of labour cannot be imposed on women who have been exploited by the institutions to which they entrusted their livelihoods.

Representation matters. Young girls should be encouraged to play sports because they’re an excellent way to develop skills. Unfortunately, it’s hard for girls to imagine themselves as being successful when their opportunities are rarely advertised.

All sports are better when everyone is excited to play.

 

Kelsey McHugh is a third-year Commerce student.

  

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