gender equality

Women-focused organizations, such as Sports Women of Tampa, can serve an important role in supporting women who aspire to have careers in the male-dominated realm of sport.

In his book, Diversity and Inclusion in Sport Organizations, Cunningham highlights that the sport industry has historically been a male oriented space where men have continuously held positions of power, subjugating women’s ability to participate and take positions of authority. Despite this historical power imbalance, research also shows that better business decisions are made when a diverse group of both men and women are a part of the process. Further, having more women represented in leadership roles can ultimately help an organization progress and evolve in a successful direction.

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Portland Thorns FC led the NWSL in attendance during the 2016 season with an average of 16,945 fans per match. (Photo by Ray Terril)

The National Women’s Soccer League begins its fifth season this week with markers of success that eluded the two failed U.S. women’s professional soccer leagues that predated it. Perhaps first and foremost is the league’s longevity. Both the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2012) folded after three seasons. With no sign of impending failure, the beginning of a fifth season for the NWSL bodes well for this league’s ability to break into the national sporting imagination. Currently, when I ask the undergraduates I teach to name a women’s pro sports league, they are only able to recall the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). This could change in the future, but only with a league that lasts long enough to build a national profile.

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Vincenzo Nibali with “podium girls” after winning the 2014 Tour de France. Photo from Outside Online.

Recently, organizers of the professional cycling event the Tour Down Under made the decision to eliminate “podium girls” and replace them with male junior riders on the men’s tour, thereby breaking from the tradition of other major professional cycling events like the Tour De France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro D’Italia. Podium girls are a highly visible component of the awards ceremony at the conclusion of bike races. The women are often impeccably dressed in matching outfits while presenting winners with prizes, flowers and kisses on the cheek. The role of podium girls and, in some instances, podium boys provides a snapshot of the ways in which traditional gender norms are reinforced in sport.

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Left to Right: Hans D’Orville (Assistant Director-General for Strategic Planning, UNESCO), Larry Scott (then CEO for the WTA), Billie Jean King, Vera Zvonareva (athlete ambassador).

Professional tennis, like every other “good” sporting organization, does its part to “give back” to the communities with which it interacts. If you’re a fan of women’s tennis you may have noticed that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) donates money for every ace that a player hits during a season. Some of the aficionados may know that former World #1 and teenage phenom, Martina Hingis, was an ambassador for polio eradication. You might even know that the WTA has worked with Habitat for Humanity International and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But I’m willing to bet that even the most ardent tennis fan doesn’t know that ten yeas ago, the WTA started a partnership with UNESCO in the hopes of achieving Global Gender Equality.

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