Reporting from Sydney: World Conference on Women & Sport!

posted by Fair Game News
Friday, May 21, 2010 at 1:01pm EDT

Seeking equality on -- and off -- the field. The strong connection between organized athletics and power (political, economic, social) means sports have consequences far beyond the game. FairGameNews.com aims to challenge sex-stereotyped assumptions and practices that dominate sports -- and recognize that sports can be a tool for seeking equal treatment and fair play.

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By Sarah Odell and Lindsay Rico

Have you ever considered access to athletics a human right? Do you wonder why it it matters for women to play sports? And, what the heck is Netball?

These are a few of the questions being put forth at the Fifth World Conference on Women & Sport. Some 500 people from 60 countries have made their way Down Under to Sydney, Australia to examine the implications — and complications — facing the worldwide women’s athletic community.

The four-day conference is raising  challenging issues, but there is already one overwhelming response: Women’s access to sports is more than just a game.  FairGameNews.com is on site and blogging (watch for Q&A’s with key leaders coming up).

While female athletes (and would-be female athletes) may face particular barriers in their home nations, it is striking how much about the nature of the struggle for access, equity, and support are common across the globe. Some big themes:

– SPORT IS POWER: Women’s access to sport is not just a privilege, but  a right. This has been recognized in official declarations for years, but increasingly, this is not just about fitness, health, and the right to control one’s body, but about the political, economic and social tools that come as part of involvement in sports and sports culture.

– EQUITY IN SPORT IS A PUBLIC MATTER: Governments DO have an interest and a role to play in seeking — even regulating — gender equity in sports, several presenters have suggested. And one — Kate Ellis, Australian Minister of Sport — is actually taking action. She announced at the conference that her government would track and publish the gender make-up of sports governing boards and compile a Women in Sport Register to counter men who say they can’t find any qualified women to fill leadership roles. “If it’s really that hard for sport to go out there and find these women, then I’m prepared to work with them to do it,” she said.

– WOMEN’S SPORTS ARE MISSING FROM THE MEDIA: Female athletes around the globe are poorly covered and represented in the print and TV coverage (several studies showed a reproducibly predictable breakdown or representation: 80% men; 10% women; 10% other – horse racing typically gets more coverage than women, several speakers noted). What’s more, researchers say it hasn’t gotten any better in the past 30 years. As a result, said Toni Bruce, PhD, “we are teaching girls to be happy watching boys [play sports] and  teaching boys that they don’t have to watch girls [play sports].”

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