According to Messner (1998), the “women's movement into sport represents a genuine quest by women for equality, control of their own bodies, and self-definition, and as such it represents a challenge to the ideological basis of male domination”.
Birrell and Theberge (1994) state that the structure of sport and physical activities in society is informed by:
· Sport being a patriarchal institution which privileges males
· A sexist ideology and stereotypes which disadvantage females in sport
The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896, did not believe that women biologically had the capacity to deal with the demands of sports (UN Women 2000 and Beyond).
In the US, Title IX 1972, requires that women be provided an equitable opportunity to participate in sport; that female athletes receive athletic scholarships proportional to their participation; and that female athletes receive equal treatment, for example in the provision of equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice times, coaching, practice and competitive facilities, access to tutoring, publicity and promotions, and recruitment of student-athletes.
In 1994 the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport was adopted and signed by 280 delegates from 82 countries including T&T to promote gender equality in sport in society through greater participation of women as athletes, officials and administrators.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter, adopted in 2004, states that one of the roles of the Committee is to “encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.”
In 2013, Lydia Nsekera of Burundi created history by becoming the first-ever woman to be elected to FIFA’s Executive Committee. Locally, also in 2013, Annette Knott became the first women's secretary-general of the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC). In 2014, Becky Hammon became the first full-time, salaried women's coach in NBA history and 2016; Debbie Hockey became the first women's president of Cricket New Zealand in its 122-year history.
Today, despite these advances, gender inequality still exist and continue to limit sporting opportunities- infrastructure, funding/sponsorship, media coverage etc. - for women. In the US, despite Title IX’s successes, high schools are providing “1.3 million less opportunities for young women in America” (Uplifter, March 2020). The report further states that “this lack of opportunity means that fewer young girls who enjoy playing sport will be able to continue playing sport when they reach high school; in the process, losing the critical personal development opportunities that sport bestows during teenage years”.
The Gatorade’s Girl in Sport study indicated that girls dropped out of sport 1.5 times more than boys at age 14 and by age 17, half the girls who played high school sport stopped playing. One of the major reasons for the high attrition rate is that the girls did not see any future in sports.
It will be interesting to assess the data (if any) on both boys and girls participation in sport at the school, club and national levels across sporting disciplines.
Equally important it will be very informative to ascertain whether there are policies and programmes that are implemented and monitored to not only encourage female participation but also promote gender equality in sport for both men and women in T&T.
The Ministry of Sport and Community Development should demand such data from NGBs (national governing bodies) and align it to its funding policy to NGBs. What is the current status of T&T on achieving the objectives of the Brighton Declaration 1994 and moving toward achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 by 2030 of gender equality in sport?
Given the historical structure of sport, the “optimistic predictions that women's movement into sports signals an imminent demise of inequalities between the sexes are premature,” (Messner 1988; 198). Institutional frameworks have been instituted to facilitate gender equality in sport but the changes have not been widespread and have not challenged the patriarchal normalisation of sport. Therefore, a serious dent to gender inequality in sport must be addressed by implementing and monitoring gender equality policies and practices.
This will become even more important in the post-COVID-19 period where without purposeful direct intervention, female engagement in every aspect of sports can suffer from debilitating stagnation.
Such a probable reality can result in the undoing of whatever achievements have been accomplished while at the same time widening already inequalities such as in the area of funding and sponsorship.