An Equal Pursuit of Health and Achievement: Gender Issues on the Sports Field

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This article is part of the 24th issue of LEAP — Voices of Youth e-letter. Subscribe now.

In 1994, the British Sports Council held the first International Conference on Women and Sport. Delegates from 82 countries/regions jointly endorsed the Brighton Declaration, hoping to improve women’s under-involvement in sports relative to men through international collaboration and promotion.

The conference members at the time formed an organization — the International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) — which continues to promote concepts. After women’s involvement in sports was significantly improved, the IWG turned its focus to women’s visibility and decision rights in sport.

Gender Inequality in the Sports Field

Gender inequality in the sports field is not a new issue, but it has never ceased to exist.

Taking the American professional basketball league as an example, the average salary for male NBA players is nearly 80 times higher than that of WNBA players. Furthermore, the total salary of all WNBA players is only comparable to the highest-paid NBA player’s salary. Such a disparity is also observed in the male-female salary ratios in international tennis and golf games.

Other than the long-existing salary gap, the IWG also noticed that women rarely serve as leadership roles in the sports community, including upper-level positions such as coaches, administrative managers, and referees. As a result of the lack of female upper management, women’s voices and needs are not taken into consideration during policy-making. This further deepens inequality.

Sports Gender Equality in Taiwan

Athletic organizations in Taiwan regularly hold activities to advocate gender equality in sports.

Taiwan has a reputation for having a high level of awareness of gender equality. How is the development in sport gender equality?

In fact, Taiwan did not only sign the above international declaration through the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee. In 2017, the “White Paper for Promoting Women’s Involvement in Sport” was launched internally, which clearly outlined the four goals of “promoting women’s involvement in sports, creating a gender-friendly sport environment, enhancing women’s visibility, and empowering women in sports.” These goals will be put to practice through enhanced facilities and education promotion. Nevertheless, many of the currently established ideas still need time for changes to take place.

Tseng Yu-Hsien is a former athlete who now serves as an associate professor at the Athletic Department of National Taiwan University. As an observation she shared during classes, people often have the impression that female students with outstanding sports performances “are just like boys.” From these subtle expressions, the stereotype that “good sports performance is a masculine quality” appears to have more room for reconsideration and adjustment.

Sports and Media

In sports news, male athletes are often portrayed as diligent heroes who turn a defeat into victory. However, the media often portray female athletes by focusing on their appearance or feminine qualities that satisfy social expectations.

Female athletes have titles like “volleyball sweethearts” and “pretty babies.” Rather than sports performance, they attract more attention for their personal styles off the sports field and questions like “plans to get married and have children.” For female athletes who happen to be a mother, the news tends to place an emphasis on how they care for the family and become “Superwomen” for their children. All of these factors distort the original focus that should have been placed on sport performance.

Many studies have begun to pay attention to this phenomenon in recent years, which demonstrates a process of reflection in society. If the media could report sport news from a more neutral perspective, the public awareness of gender equality can be greatly enhanced.

Sport is Not Belong to Any Specific Gender

In the past, sports and competition were perceived as male-specific activities. This not only resulted in the exclusion of women from important competitions such as the Olympics in the early years, but also drew a line between sport and masculine quality in forming a gender stereotype.

However, sport is not just an important channel for pursuing physical, psychological health and life quality. It is also a career choice that should not exclude any gender.

The involvement of women in sports may be limited by a lack of female athletic competitions and gender-friendly sport venue designs. We need to gather more power together in order to really implement freedom and equality in sport.

Also in This Issue:

Making Gender Equality a Reality in Sports — The Taiwan Sports Forward Association

Taiwan SFA aims to arouse public awareness of gender issues in sports. They started from designing teaching material for school PE teachers.

Author : Hsien Liu

Freelance writer / Graduate student in Journalism

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LEAP − Voices of Youth

LEAP − Voices of Youth

LEAP: Voices of Youth is a quality platform for English readers to learn about gender issues in Taiwan