Women's sports

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Women's sports include amateur and professional competitions in virtually all sports. Female participation in sports rose dramatically in the twentieth century, especially in the last quarter, reflecting changes in modern societies that emphasized gender parity. Although the level of participation and performance still varies greatly by country and by sport, women's sports have broad acceptance throughout the world, and in a few instances, such as figure skating, rival or exceed their male counterparts in popularity. An important aspect about women's sports is that women usually do not compete on equal terms against men.[1]


Ancient civilizations[edit]

Roman women engaged in sports. Mosaic at the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina in Sicily

Before each ancient Olympic Games there was a separate women's athletic event, the Heraean Games, dedicated to the goddess Hera and held at the same stadium at Olympia. Myth held that the Heraea was founded by Hippodameia the wife of the king who founded the Olympics.[2]

Although married women were excluded from the Olympics even as spectators, Cynisca won an Olympic game as owner of a chariot (champions of chariot races were owners not riders), as did Euryleonis, Belistiche, Zeuxo, Encrateia and Hermione, Timareta, Theodota and Cassia.

After the classical period, there was some participation by women in men's athletic festivals.[2]

Early modern[edit]

During the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, women played in professional Cuju teams [2][3]

Chinese ladies playing cuju, by the Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin

The first Olympic games in the modern era, which were in 1896 were not open to women, but since then the number of women who have participated in the Olympic games have increased dramatically.[3]

19th and early 20th centuries[edit]

The educational committees of the French Revolution (1789) included intellectual, moral, and physical education for girls and boys alike. With the victory of Napoleon less than twenty years later, physical education was reduced to military preparedness for boys and men. In Germany, the physical education of GutsMuths (1793) included girl's education. This included the measurement of performances of girls. This led to women's sport being more actively pursued in Germany than in most other countries.[4] When the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale was formed as an all women's international organization it had a German male vice-president, and German international success in elite sports.

Women's sports in the late 1800s focused on correct posture, facial and bodily beauty, muscles, and health.[citation needed] In 1916 the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) held its first national championship for women.[citation needed]

Few women competed in sports in Europe and North America until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as social changes favored increased female participation in society as equals with men. Although women were technically permitted to participate in many sports, relatively few did. There was often disapproval of those who did.

"Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." Susan B. Anthony said "I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride on a wheel. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance."

The modern Olympics had female competitors from 1900 onward, though women at first participated in considerably fewer events than men. As of the IOC-Congress in Paris 1914 a woman's medal had formally the same weight as a man's in the official medal table. This left the decisions about women's participation to the individual international sports federations.[5] Concern over the physical strength and stamina of women led to the discouragement of female participation in more physically intensive sports, and in some cases led to less physically demanding female versions of male sports. Thus netball was developed out of basketball and softball out of baseball. In response to the lack of support for women's international sport the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale was founded in France. This organization initiated the Women's World Games, which attracted participation of nearly 20 countries and was held four times between 1922 and 1934.[6] The International Olympic Committee began to incorporate greater participation of women at the Olympics in response. The number of Olympic women athletes increased over five-fold in the period, going from 65 at the 1920 Summer Olympics to 331 at the 1936 Summer Olympics.[7][8]

Most early women's professional sports leagues foundered. This is often attributed to a lack of spectator support. Amateur competitions became the primary venue for women's sports. Throughout the mid-twentieth century, Communist countries dominated many Olympic sports, including women's sports, due to state-sponsored athletic programs that were technically regarded as amateur. The legacy of these programs endured, as former Communist countries continue to produce many of the top female athletes. Germany and Scandinavia also developed strong women's athletic programs in this period.

During the later years of the 20th century the government decided to change the way that women were treated in schools based on their gender. They implemented Title IX, which is a law stating that any federally funded program cannot dicriminate anyone based on their sex.[9] Many colleges did not like the idea of Title IX because many of them thought that this new law would jeopardize the men's sports programs.[9][10] Towards 1990 more collages and high schools started accepting what women's sports programs would do for the school, during this year Title IX received a boost from the supreme court, making this more important and valid to schools. As Title IX became more important to the schools more female athletes began playing, by 1990 the number of female athletes extended to 160,000.[11] Title IX has caused many changes not only for athletes but for coached and referees too. Bernadette Locke became the first female Division I coach of a men's basketball team at the University of Kentucky, she was the assistant coach to Rick Pitino (1990). Later, goal keeper Jenny Hanley, from Hamline University, became the first women to play on a mens college hockey team (1991).[11] By 1994 ground was devoted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, this is the first hall devoted to just women athletes. That same year, 22 years after Title IX was implemented, 300% more females played sports in high schoool than the amount of those who played in 1972. In the year 1996the amount of female high school athletes reached 2.4 million players, this included 819 football players, 1164 wreslters, and 1471 ice hockey players.[11]

Women's rights in sports are very important because even though women today enjoy their freedom playing sports, there were women that worked hard to gain that freedom for women who have a passion for sports now. There are many examples of the restrictions women had for playing sports during the 1900s. One example is when Senda Berenson, a gymnastics instructor and P.E. teacher at an all-girls school,that wanted to allow her girls to play basketball, since it was a newly created sport. Senda wondered about this at the time that women could only play certain sports if they were in clubs.

The rise of women playing sports began during World War I and World War II. This issue impacted the society at the time because most people believed that women should not take part in any type of sport or physical activity, because women were portrayed as inferior to men. But even though many people were against it at the time; women gained the right to play more physical sports.


Sports are high priority in Canadian culture, but women were long relegated to second-class status. There were regional differences as well, with the eastern provinces emphasizing a more feminine "girls rule" game of basketball, while the Western provinces preferred identical rules. Girls’ and women’s sport has traditionally been slowed down by a series of factors: girls and women historically have low levels of interest and participation; there were very few women in leadership positions in academic administration, student affairs or athletics; there were few women coaches; the media strongly emphasized men's sports as a demonstration of masculinity, suggesting that women seriously interested in sports were crossing gender lines; the male sports establishment was actively hostile. Staunch feminists dismissed sports as unworthy of their support. Women's of progress was uphill; they first had to counter the widespread notion that women's bodies were so restricted and delicate that vigorous physical activity was dangerous. These notions where first challenged by the "new woman" around 1900. These women started with bicycling; they rode into new gender spaces in education, work, and suffrage. The 1920s marked a breakthrough for women, including working-class young women in addition to the pioneering middle class sportswomen.[12]

United States: Title IX[edit]

Implementation and Regulation[edit]

In 1972 women's sports in the United States got a boost when the Congress passed the Title IX legislation. The United States Congress passed this law as a part of the additional Amendment Act to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.[13] Title IX states that: "no person shall on the basis of sex, be excluded from participating in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance..."[14] in other words, Title IX prohibits gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funds through grants, scholarships, or other support for students. The law states that federal funds can be withdrawn from a school engaging in intentional gender discrimination in the provision of curriculum, counseling, academic support, or general educational opportunities; this includes interscholastic or varsity sports.[15] This law from the Education Act requires that both male and female athletes have equal facilities, equal benefits. The equal benefits are the necessities such as equal equipment, uniforms, supplies, training, practice, quality in coaches and opponents, awards, and cheerleaders and bands at the game.[16] In practice, the difficulty with Title IX is making sure schools are compliant with the law. In 1979, there was a policy interpretation that offered three ways in which schools could be compliant with Title IX; it became known as the "three-part test".

  1. Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment. This prong of the test is satisfied when participation opportunities for men and women are "substantially proportionate" to their respective undergraduate enrollment.
  2. Demonstrating a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution has a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (typically female).
  3. Accommodating the interest and ability of underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution is meeting the interests and abilities of its female students even where there are disproportionately fewer females than males participating in sports.

Although schools only have to be compliant with one of the three prongs, many schools have not managed to achieve equity. Many schools attempt to achieve compliance through the first prong, however, in order to achieve that compliance schools cut men's programs which is not the way the OCR wanted compliance achieved.[17] Equity is not the only way to be compliant with Title IX. To be considered compliant with Title IX, athletic departments simply need to show that they are making efforts to achieve parity in participation, treatment, and athletic financial assistance.[18]

Effect on women's sports[edit]

The main objective of Title IX is to avoid the discrimination of anyone due to their sex in a federally funded program. It was also used to provide protection to those who are being descrminated due to their gender.[19] However, Title IX is most commonly associated with its impact on athletics and more specifically the impact it has had on women's participation in athletics at every age. Today there are more females participating in athletics than ever before. As of the 2007-2008 school year, females made up 41% of the participants in college athletics.[20] To see the growth of women's sports just look at the difference in participation before the passing of Title IX and today. In 1971-1972 there were 294,015 females participating in high school athletics and in 2007-2008 there were over three million females participating, meaning there has been a 940% increase in female participation in high school athletics.[20] In 1971-1972 there were 29,972 females participating in college athletics and in 2007-2008 there were 166,728 females participating, that is a 456% increase in female participation in college athletics.[20] In 1971, less than 300,000 females played in high school sports. After the law was passed many females started to play. By 1990, only eighteen years later, 1.9 million female high school students were playing sports.[13] More females are getting involved and finding a love and passion for sports that were once seen as something for men. Increased participation in sports has had direct effects on other areas of women's lives. These effects can be seen in women's education and employment later on in life; a recent study found that the changes set in motion by Title IX explained about 20 percent of the increase in women's education and about 40 percent of the rise in employment for 25-to-34-year-old women.[21] This is not to say that all women who are successful later on in life played sports, but it is saying that women who did participate in athletics received benefits in their education and employment later on in life.[21]

The battle for equality[edit]

Today, the battle for equality between men's and women's sports rages on. Women make up 54% of enrollment at 832 schools that responded to an NCAA gender equity study in 2000, however, females at these institutions only account for 41% of the athletes. Before Title IX 90% of women's collage athletic programs we run by women, but by 1992 the number dropped to 42% since Title IX requires that there are equal opportunities for both genders.[13] This violates Title IX's premise that the ratio of female athletes to male athletes should be roughly equivalent to the overall proportion of female and male students.[22] Many of the issues today often revolve around the amount of money going into men and women's sports. According to 2000-2001 figures, men's college programs still have many advantages over women's in the average number of scholarships (60.5%), operating expenses (64.5%), recruiting expenses (68.2%) and head coaching salaries (59.5%).[22] Other forms of inequality are in the coaching positions. Before Title IX, women coached 90% of women's teams, in 1978 that percentage dropped to 58, and in 2004 it dropped even more to 44 percent.[23] In 1972, women administered 90 percent of women's athletic programs, in 2004 this fell to 19 percent and also in 2004 18 percent of all women's programs had no women administrators.[23] In 2004 there were 3356 administrative jobs in NCAA women's athletic programs and of those jobs women held 35 percent of them.[23]

The 2012 London Olympics were the first games of their kind in which women competed in every sport.[24]

Women's sports today[edit]

Girls' and boys' participation rates in sports varies by country and region. In the United States today, nearly all schools require student participation in sports, guaranteeing that all girls were exposed to athletics at an early age, which was generally not the case in Western Europe and Latin America.[citation needed] In intramural sports, the genders were often mixed, though for competitive sports the genders remained segregated. Title IX legislation required colleges and universities to provide equal athletic opportunities for women. This large pool of female athletes enabled the U.S. to consistently rank among the top nations in women's Olympic sports, and female Olympians from skater Peggy Fleming (1968) to Mary Lou Retton (1986) became household names.[citation needed]

Tennis was the most-popular professional female sport from the 1970s onward,[citation needed] and it provided the occasion for a symbolic "battle of the sexes" between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, enhancing the profile of female athletics.[citation needed] The success of women's tennis, however, did little to help the fortunes of women's professional team sports.[citation needed]

Women's professional team sports achieved popularity for the first time in the 1990s, particularly in basketball and football (soccer).[citation needed] This popularity has been asymmetric, being strongest in the U.S., certain European countries and former Communist states.[citation needed] Thus, women's soccer was originally dominated by the U.S., China, and Norway, who have historically fielded weak men's national teams. However,[when?] several nations with strong and even dominant men's national teams, such as Germany, Sweden, and Brazil, have established themselves as women's powers.[citation needed] Despite this increase in popularity, women's professional sports leagues continue to struggle financially. The WNBA is operated at a loss by the NBA,[citation needed] perhaps in the hope of creating a market that will eventually be profitable. A similar approach is used to promote women's boxing, as women fighters are often undercards on prominent male boxing events, in the hopes of attracting an audience.[citation needed]

Today, women compete professionally and as amateurs in virtually every major sport, though the level of participation typically decreases when it comes to the more violent contact sports; few schools have women's programs in American football, boxing or wrestling.[citation needed] However, these typical non-participation habits may slowly be evolving as more women take real interest in the games, for example Katie Hnida became the first woman ever to score points in a Division I NCAA American football game when she kicked two extra-points for the University of New Mexico in 2003.[citation needed]

Modern sports have seen the development of a higher profile for female athletes in other historically male sports, such as golf, marathons or ice hockey.[citation needed]

As of 2013, the only sports that men but not women play professionally in the United States are football, baseball, ice hockey, and Ultimate Frisbee.

Recently there has been much more crossover as to which sports males and females participate in, although there are still some differences. For example, at the 1992 Winter Olympics, both genders were allowed to participate in the sport of figure skating, previously a female-only sporting event. However, the programs for the event required men to perform three triple jumps, and women only one.

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b Scanlon, Thomas F. "Games for Girls". "Ancient Olympics Guide". Retrieved February 18, 2006. 
  3. ^ "Women and Sport Commission". Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  4. ^ Arnd Krüger (2003): Germany, in: James Riordan & Arnd Krüger (eds.): European Cultures in Sport. Examining the Nations and Regions. Bristol: Intellect 2003, pp. 57 – 88.
  5. ^ Arnd Krüger: Forgotton Decisions. The IOC on the Eve of World War I, in: Olympika 6 (1997), 85 – 98. (http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/Olympika/Olympika_1997/olympika0601g.pdf)
  6. ^ Leigh, Mary H.; Bonin, Thérèse M. (1977). "The Pioneering Role Of Madame Alice Milliat and the FSFI in Establishing International Trade and Field Competition for Women". Journal of Sport History (North American Society for Sport History) 4 (1): 72–83. Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  7. ^ Antwerp 1920. IOC. Retrieved on 2014-01-11.
  8. ^ Berlin 1936. IOC. Retrieved on 2014-01-11.
  9. ^ a b "Empowering Women in Sports". 
  10. ^ Greenberg, Judith E. (1997). Getting into the Game: Women and Sports. New York: Franklin Watts. 
  11. ^ a b c "Part 6- 1990-1997". 
  12. ^ M. Ann Hall, The Girl and the Game: A History of Women's Sport in Canada (Broadview Press, 2002)
  13. ^ a b c Steiner, Andy (1995). A Sporting Chance: Sports and Genders. 
  14. ^ Greenburg, Judith. E (1997). Getting into the Game: Women and Sports. New York: Franklin Watts. 
  15. ^ Coakley, Jay (2007). Sports in Society. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 238. 
  16. ^ Greenberg, Judith E. "Getting into the Game Women and Sports". Franklin Watts. 
  17. ^ Irons, Alicia (Spring 2006). "The Economic Inefficiency of Title IX". Major Themes in Economics. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Title IX Information". Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  19. ^ http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/cor/coord/titleix.php. Retrieved November 12, 2013.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ a b c "Title IX Athletic Statistics". Retrieved February 16, 2012. 
  21. ^ a b Parker-Pope, Tara (February 16, 2010). "As Girls Become Women, Sports Pay Dividends". New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2012. 
  22. ^ a b Garber, Greg. "Landmark law faces new challenges even now". Retrieved February 16, 2012. 
  23. ^ a b c Coakley, Jay (2007). Sports in Society. New York: McGraw-Hill. p. 255. 
  24. ^ http://www.channel4.com/news/london-2012-is-this-the-womens-olympics

External links[edit]