“If you look at the history of women in sport, it’s a history of protest” – Alice Soper.
For years female athletes have had to fight for their right to participate, to be valued and to garner the same respect as their male counterparts. It’s time for this skewed perception of the quality and skill level of women’s sports to change. Women athletes deserve equal representation.
For our fourth Te Whanganui-a Tara event of 2023, we explored the past, present, and future of women in sport. This event was hosted by pro basketballer Tegan Graham, who after playing division one basketball in the States is back in New Zealand as co-captain of the Tokomanawa Queens. Tegan was joined by a fantastic lineup of speakers including retired paralympian swimmer Mary Fisher, pro handballer and governance extraordinaire; Erin Roxburgh and rugby player, columnist and advocate; Alice Soper.
The panel began with our speakers sharing their experience as athletes and the impact of their gender on their athlete journey. Over the 2 hours we shared, we explored the overwhelming nuance of male domination in this realm, with athleticism being readily associated with the male sex and the evident gender divides caused by this. Each speaker provided examples of when they or other female athletes have experienced resistance, been provided less resources or made to train in worse conditions than their male counterparts. Alice discussed the need to recognise those who have come before and their role in this ongoing protest for recognition and appreciation of women’s sports. She shared with us that women who competed in the 1991 Rugby World cup has to pay $5,000 of their own money in order to go. Other examples were highlighted such as the inclusion of “women” in every woman’s sports title but never “men” for male’s sports; naturally positioning womens sport as the ‘other’.
There was also an amazing piece raised on a historic challenge in women’s sport: “Sex sells”. It was noted by Tegan, who explored this topic among others in her Master’s Degree, that sex sells sex - sex does not sell sports. Are we trying to empower female athletes or simply objectify them? Erin expressed the emotional labour she experienced being forced to wear a bikini to play beach handball, with the focus being tuned to their bodies rather than their skill and craft. It is crucial we empower female athletes; and these sexist notions experienced widely in women’s sports detracts from their skill by implying there needs to be some other reason to support or attend events.
The kōrero also touched on the need for representation and what representation meant for each of them. Alice explained how she felt you need to be able to “touch it” and have people in your immediate circle that help influence you, along with people willing to support you fight the imperative fights. Erin spoke of the importance of having more representation around board tables, with a focus on amplifying the voice of the community you support. Mary discussed her positive experience at the London Paralympics with receiving equal promotion to the able-bodied Olympics and how important it is the same approach is mirrored in the promotion of male and female sports. Despite delivering equivalent results, female athletes currently have less representation, less funding, and less power at the table in most sports environments.
The conversation rounded out with discussions about what actions can be taken to combat these challenges. Tegan highlighted how she’s always felt encouraged to be grateful and appreciate what she’s received but now recognises her own excellence and can continue to expect recognition and accolades in her role as a female athlete, “you don’t need to fight everyone for who you already are”. Alice echoed this, stating we need to “name it to tame it”. We need to reframe the narrative and the way we discuss female sports. It is not a charity or something we support as a chore, it’s something to be excited about and to appreciate being able to go and enjoy. The narrative needs to express women’s sport as skilful, they deserve more funding and more recognition. Recognition of women in sport doesn’t stop at pro level. It’s important to recognise sports at all levels, and all the individuals involved and doing the mahi in their local sporting communities.
How to take the Kaupapa forward
It’s so important to continue this kōrero and continuing to empower women in sport. Here are somethings you can do to help take the Kaupapa forward.
Go out and support women sports teams. Your attendance can make a massive difference - but as Alice says, don't go just to support. Go to have a good time!
Tune in to broadcasts of free-to-air coverage of women’s sporting events, plus radio coverage and live-blogging on major news websites.
21% of sports news coverage is now devoted to women’s sport (way above the global average of 4%). Make the most of it and track the progress of our female athletes.
Share content of women’s sport and encourage others to go and support.
Follow female sports teams on social media and join their movements
EDUCATE YOURSELF FURTHER
Learn more about the experiences of women in sport and what actions are been taken to address the inequities women and girls experience in sport and recreation:
Check out Sport NZ’s ‘Women and Girls Action Plan’ - Road Map to June 2024
Listen to the Podcast ‘Universe Sports Talk – Tegan Graham of BYU Women’s Basketball’
Tegan (our facilitator) talks about her journey from NZ to playing division 1 experience in the states and her research on the gender gap in college athletics.
Read Alice Soper’s newsroom article “Time to stop saying thanks” as she explains it’s time for a new attitude within the women’s rugby game in NZ
Check out Alice Soper’s LockerRoom columns!
Read stuff article “New Zealand’s global call to action in beach handball: wear what you want”.
Reflect on your role in supporting women’s sport.
Write down all the things you are currently doing in your sporting communities.
Think about what being involved with sport and active recreation has taught you and how you can share this joy or teach these lessons to others.