Women in varsity sports are shortchanged in terms of funding and coaching opportunities. (Varsity Blues photo)

Gender imbalance lingers in varsity sport

U of T experts call for stronger policies, more opportunities for women

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found that the country has a long way to go in providing equal opportunities for female student-athletes and leaders.

The researchers at U of T’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies conducted the most comprehensive analysis to date of gender equity in Canada’s interuniversity sport system, culminating in a report entitled Gender Equity in Canadian Sport. The report, which will become a biannual check-up, calls for national and regional interuniversity sport bodies to establish stronger equity policies and take the lead in improving opportunities for female athletes and coaches.

Athlete participation data were analyzed based not only on the number of opportunities across all Canadian universities, but on the gender split in the student body.  While men make up only 44 per cent of the university student body, they have 56 per cent of the varsity sport opportunities.  The exact opposite is true for women, who make up 56 per cent of students and enjoy 44 per cent of the spots on varsity teams.

The numbers get far worse at the top, where women make up only 19 per cent of head coaches and only 17 per cent of athletic directors.

“Certainly there have been great strides in the last 30 years in terms of female participation in interuniversity sport, but there is still some distance to go in terms of interuniversity sport’s own aspirations for equity,” said Professor Peter Donnelly, director of the centre and one of the lead authors of the report. 

Co-investigator Professor Bruce Kidd, a long-time international advocate for equity in sport, agreed. “Gender equity has hit a plateau and is stuck in a position that is still inadequate.  Women deserve opportunities proportionate to their participation in university – and they also need to be better mentored and prepared to take on leadership roles down the road.”

The study’s authors are tasking Canadian Interuniversity Sport and its four regional counterparts with three challenges:

• to revamp their gender equity policies based on these results;
• to create an immediate 50 per cent target towards proportional female participation; and
• to develop a plan for improving leadership opportunities for women in coaching and senior administration.

The full report can be found on the Centre for Sport Policy Studies website.

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