The University of Ottawa faces scrutiny for awarding 70 per cent of athletic scholarship money to women last year, making it one of seven Ontario universities to violate provincial rules.

Women scored 70 per cent of the $310,548 awarded in athletic scholarships at the university in 2008-09 — the second-largest gender gap in the province, after Nipissing University, where women received 74 per cent of scholarship money.

Gender inequity

In 2008-09, seven Ontario universities violated the gender equity guidelines of Ontario University Athletics, the body that governs university sport in the province:

  • University of Guelph.
  • Lakehead University.
  • McMaster University.
  • Nipissing University.
  • University of Ottawa.
  • University of Windsor. 
  • Wilfrid Laurier University.

Women received more scholarship money at Guelph, Nipissing and Ottawa while men got more money at the other universities.

As members of Ontario University Athletics, or OUA, the university is required to give no more than 55 per cent and no less than 45 per cent of funding to one gender.

Ward Dilse, executive director of the OUA, said a committee that looks at financial awards will notify the violators and ask for an explanation. But because the collection of award data is still in its infancy, the association is focusing on education rather than sanctions for violators, he said. The OUA started collecting this type of data in 2003-04.

"We will be conducting training sessions with all our schools this year to have a better understanding of how to manage their scholarship distribution," Dilse said.

Women get higher marks

Luc Gélineau, director of sport service at the University of Ottawa, said the unequal distribution of scholarships occurs because the OUA requires returning students to maintain a 70 per cent average to be eligible for awards.

"It seems to be across the country now that women seem to be performing a bit more in [a] university setting."

The university wanted to give out scholarships to as many student athletes as possible, he added.

In Ontario the maximum scholarship awarded is $3,500.

Gélineau said the university is sure that it can even out the ratio of money awarded to men versus women within the next year. The university's goal, he added, is to provide more academic support to athletes who are currently falling just short of the grade average required for a scholarship.

Nemanja Baletic, a starter on the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men's basketball team, acknowledged academic performance does vary among his teammates.

"Not everyone is able to cope with the academic requirements and so people do miss out on the scholarship."

That's not the case on the Gee-Gees women's volleyball team, said squad member Tess Edwards.

"Our team does very well academically," Edwards said. "So, I don't think there's anyone who isn't eligible for those benefits."

Dilse admits that the academic requirements could be an issue when trying to comply with the gender equity policy, but he said some schools have been successful at managing those challenges. He did not give any specifics, but said the OUA committee will look at the strategies used at those schools so they can be shared with other universities.