Sexism reaches all levels of sport, says prof

The root of the problem is the alarming dropout rate of girls and young women from sports and physical activity, says University of Saskatchewan kinesiology professor Louise Humbert.

Alarming dropout rate of girls, young women from sports, physical activity

Young female athletes continue to face barriers, says a University of Saskatchewan professor. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Many historic inequalities still exist at the top levels of sport, says a University of Saskatchewan kinesiology professor, but the root of the problem is the alarming dropout rate of girls and young women from sports and physical activity.

"I believe we have a lot of work to do with girls and young women to make the physical activity environment better for them, be it the physical activity environment in schools, in sporting situations, in communities," said Louise Humbert.

Recent comments by Saskatoon MP Kevin Waugh have shone a light on the issue of gender equality in sport. Waugh told the crowd at the Saskatoon Sports Hall of Fame dinner women are treated as well — or even better — than men in the sports community.

Too often, girls are blamed for not wanting to participate but sporting environments can be intimidating. Humbert said programs are often set up from a male perspective.

The better approach would be to examine what's being offered. Girls should be asked what would help them. It's everyone's responsibility to improve the situation, she said.

"There are multiple ways we can include girls and young women in all of our programming, be it the images we're posting, games, times, who we're valuing, who gets more press than someone else," Humbert said.

"I think that's really important."

Girls should be asked what would help them feel more welcome in the sports environment. (Paul Dornstauder/CBC)

Humbert said the situation is improving slowly, but there's still a long way to go.

As for elite sports, some wonder why U of S women's teams are scheduled to play over the dinner hour. The prime evening slot is given to men's teams.

U of S athletic director Basil Hughton said they're open to rotating teams in different time slots as other universities have done. He said he's in regular contact with all coaches. The women's basketball coaches, for example, say they prefer the 6:30 p.m. CST starts, he said.

Hughton agreed there is a lot of work to be done on gender and sport.

He said, "It's a conversation that's alive and well. We have to work hard at it."