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Resources key to getting women’s sporting interest

Monday, March 31, 2014

In a recent newspaper article (3/17/14, Trinidad Guardian), the general secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and several administrators of various sporting disciplines were reported expressing growing concerns about the declining participation of females in sports. The general question of the administrators was how to re-attract and attract females into sports.


Several strategically probing questions have to be answered if any attempt is to speak to the issue at heart of increasing female participation in sports. Firstly, is there a stated recognition of the need to have and increase female participation is sports? Secondly, what data exists about female views and participation in sports? Thirdly, and linked to the question on data, what strategic programmes are in place to increase female participation in sports? Fourthly, are the requisite human resource capacity and support systems available to ensure females participate and remain within sports? 


As it relates to the first question, it is evident that women and sport is recognised by sporting administrators as important if only in principle. The Ministry of Sport and the TTOC are signatories to the Brighton Declaration for Women and Sport 1994. Several other Caribbean countries including Barbados and Jamaica are also signatories. The Ministry of Sport promotes women and girls in sport with an annual festival in various sporting disciplines. Additionally, the TTOC constitution reinforces the objectives of the Brighton Declaration in its constitution by promoting “equality of participation of men and women in sports” (TTOC constitution 2012).


Internationally, sporting administrators, policy makers and academics have been striving over the years to develop the most appropriate strategies to attract, increase and sustain female participation in every aspect of sports. Some of these discussions have resulted in international declarations such as the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport 1994 and in the US there is the existence of Title IX.


The first international conference on women and sport was held in Brighton, UK May 5-8 1994. The outcome of the conference was the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport 1994. The spirit of the Brighton Declaration was the strategic development of programmes across all continents to increase women participation in sports. In addition, women involvement should extend beyond the field of play into other areas such as administration, coaching, and officiating. It was viewed that increase involvement of women in all aspects of sports would result in the creation of an equitable sporting culture.


In the US, Title IX, 1972 was introduced to ensure that sex was not used to discriminate in the access and distribution of resources. As such Title IX necessitates equal access to sporting facilities to men and women and both male and female athletic abilities be given equal attention.


The question of data is critical if any strategic development is to take place as recommended by the Brighton Declaration. For instance, is there both quantitative and qualitative data that speaks to the meaning that females across different age groups, ethnicities, social class, geographical locations and religions associate with sports? This question has been the subject of much research in many developed countries through such organisations as the Women’s Sports Foundation in the US, Sport England, the Australian Sports Commission and Sport Canada.


Once there are clear objectives and reliable data is available, appropriate strategies can be developed and implemented. As sports may have different meanings to different persons, the measures would have to reflect a high level of creativity in order to build a culture of sports among females. For instance, programmes must be flexible enough to ensure that it does not conflict with religious beliefs and practices. The key is that females do not see participating in sports as violating their religious beliefs. 


Once measures have been developed and implemented, data has to be consistently collected to evaluate stated outcomes. Such information can then be used for objective reviews of the overall programme. Reliable data allows for informed decision making as opposed to decisions that are made on feelings and hunches. 


Finally, the aforementioned issues are heavily depended upon of adept human resources as well as the support of other social agencies such as the family, school, religious organisations, business community and the media. It is critical that coaches are skilled enough to be able to understand and act upon appropriately to gender differences. It will be informative if sporting organisations can encourage more females into coaching. One of the questions that the data can speak to is whether or not females prefer working with male or female coaches. Additionally, do parents and guardians prefer to have their female children work with female coaches or are indifferent to male coaches.


The aforementioned does not necessarily guarantee any fundamental change in what may be taking place in the sporting world, but any attempt is better than none and it should be done in a strategic manner so that it can be assessed in a said manner.


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