THE BLOG

Still A Long Way To Go For Women In Sport

31/01/2017 12:26 GMT | Updated 31/01/2017 12:26 GMT
Alistair Berg via Getty Images

One of the big issues we'll be focusing on in sport this year is around issues of equity and women's sport.

It may be something that's been around for a while but we still have a way to go to get it right.

First, credit where it's due. I think the USA has a lot to take credit for when it comes to making people stand-up and take more notice of women's sport.

The big game-changer came in 1972 with the Title IX amendments that guaranteed women equal access to federal sports funding. It took a few years and dedicated people to ensure this right was enforced, but it is one of the reasons why the USA produced so many outstanding sports women ahead of many other nations as well as having a very strong women's teams sports culture.

When roughly half the population has something made available to them - that is, resources for facilities and access to competition - that wasn't previously there, it makes a difference.

In the 45 years since then, many countries have followed the US lead. Not necessarily by a specific Title IX-type agreement but certainly as an instrument of government policy, from the United Nations level to individual nations and within their separate jurisdictional entities.

The agenda ranges from the 'entry-level' issues of access and opportunity in less-developed nations through to the reward structure, working conditions, the level of professionalism, corporate support, recognition and media portrayal and support in developed nations.

I'll share a few examples.

While last at home in Australia, I was interested to see an issue erupt about whether pregnant athletes should be playing an elite-level sport. It emerged because the governing body of cricket requires women players to give their pregnancy status. The governing body said it was a 'duty of care' on occupational health and safety grounds. Some of the players and the players' association said it was at best, discriminatory, and at worst, not legal under Australia's equal opportunity laws.

For me, it seems like an issue out of the 1950s. I can name several outstanding female athletes who have continued to compete while pregnant and after giving birth. I also understand it's a very contemporary and key issue for many women athletes for whom the peak of their professional sporting career coincides with the age at which they may be contemplating parenthood.

In my mind, this shouldn't be a dilemma for women athletes, but something sports bodies should be able to accommodate.

Late last year, a women's non-elite level rugby team in the United Kingdom posed for a nude calendar in order to raise funds for their team. They are part of a community club that has been established since 1865 with more than 850 players from children through to adults

All power to the women if they felt empowered by it. That's their decision.

However, I can't help but feel disappointed that they felt compelled to do so. One of the players said it was so "hopefully we can raise some money to raise the profile of women's rugby."

I know that similar fundraising activities have been done by other elite and non-elite women's sporting teams over the years. The earliest instance I'm familiar with was last century when the Australian women's football (soccer) team, known as the Matildas, posed nude for the very same reasons that the rugby club did in England: to raise funds and their profile.

I'm no prude. But I can't help but feel that it's an indictment on the rest of us that women athletes feel they have to pose nude to get our attention and attract some corporate funding - whether it be national teams such as the Matildas 18 years ago, or grassroots teams such as the English rugby club two months ago.

A long-established (since 1851) London football club playing in the Premiership recently shared a video on their YouTube channel that had a feminine-sounding title. Without knowing a lot about women's football, I assumed this would be about their women's elite-level team who play in the Women's Premier League competition.

Wrong. It's about their cheerleaders - for the men's competition - with interviews and footage of posing for - you guessed it - a calendar, albeit not a nude one.

I searched for something on their actual women's team; I found quite a few videos but not a recent one that featured a serious interview with one of their fine athletes, who currently sit in the top half of the competition table. By comparison, there are plenty of features on the male team members who hover around the relegation zone in the Premier League standings.

The point of these examples is not to single out particular teams or sports or to suggest male sporting teams should have things taken away from them.

It's that all of us - whether we're a corporate like my company SKINS, a sports fan, working in the media, parents of boys and girls, or partners of women who play and/or love sport - should realise that we're 17 years into the 21st century. And we've still got a long way to go.

So, I ask you: what does it take to ensure women have equity in sport?

I reckon it takes all of us, and that's what my restless spirit will be working on this year.

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Jaimie Fuller is an ambassador for the Investec Private Banking Restless Spirits Campaign. Read more about his approach to ethics within the business of sport here:

www.investec.co.uk/jaimieonthestand