CBC Sports panel: Breaking the bias in women's sports
'We need to start changing the way we see investment in women's sports,' says host Andi Petrillo
Figure skater Maddie Schizas delivered multiple personal-best performances in her Olympic debut last month to help Canada place fourth in the team event. But how much will Canadians see of the 19-year-old and other women in sport before the 2026 Winter Games?
"Every four years [at the Olympics] is not enough to see women's sports in the spotlight," said the reigning Canadian women's champion from Oakville, Ont., who also placed 19th in the women's program in Beijing.
On Tuesday, Schizas took a break from training ahead of the world championships later this month to join a CBC Sports/International Women's Day panel, celebrating the progress and work still to be done to forge women's equality and break the bias in sport.
"This is still a challenge we have. We don't have a professional women's league of any kind in Canada," host Andi Petrillo said during the 55-minute discussion. "[But] there is proof that people love watching women's sport."
Last August, 4.4 million Canadians were glued to the women's soccer team's Olympic gold-medal victory in Tokyo. And a month ago, 2.7 million people watched Canada's hockey women defeat their American rivals for an Olympic gold medal in China.
But what will happen to coverage of women's sport after the Olympics? How can it be brought back in the spotlight?
The profile of women's sport and attracting sponsorship need to be grown together, according to former Canadian curler Renée Sonnenberg.
"There's a market out there for loyal women and we need to look for innovative ways to get support, build the sponsorship while we build the market and try not to chase the same audience and money as the male sports," said the analytics lead for Curling Canada.
Sponsorship dollars available?
If the profile can be created, Sonnenberg added, the money will follow "and hopefully as women we start wanting to watch women's sports, we start wanting to support the businesses that [do so]. We do play a role."
Sonnenberg believes there are sponsorship dollars available to women's sports and wondered if something could be learned by the work of those in professional male sports.
"How do we convince these multimillion-dollar companies that they're missing out if they don't contribute to the profile of women's sport?" she said.
In October 2020, a $1 million US sponsorship deal with deodorant company Secret enabled the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association continue its pursuit of a pro league. On Monday, Delta came to an agreement to be the official airline of the National Women's Soccer League.
"I don't understand when people say the money isn't there. I think it is," Petrillo said. "We need to start changing the way we see investment in women's sports because it's still seen as a risk, whereas investing in men is seen as a growth. When you invest in sports, it's a risk."
Canada Soccer has said it's committed to having [women's] pro soccer in the next five years. Five years is too long.— CBC Sports commentator Signa Butler
Panelist Signa Butler of CBC Sports commended Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James, former NHL head coach Ted Nolan, ex-NHL player Anthony Stewart and Bernice Carnegie for stepping up this week to purchase the Premier Hockey League's Toronto Six.
Petrillo pointed out the group includes two women, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) and Canadians.
Butler noted it's low-hanging fruit for an NWSL franchise to be in Canada.
"Where are the people that want to invest?" the play-by-play commentator said. "Canada Soccer has said it's committed to having [women's] pro soccer in the next five years. Five years is too long."
Added Petrillo: "This is a decade-long conversation. We started talking about it in 2012 when [the Canadian women] brought home [Olympic] bronze [from London]."
The attention on the Canadian women's soccer squad reached a new level following last summer's Olympic performance, with longtime player Christine Sinclair calling for an investment in the game in the form of a pro league or teams.
"I played soccer for a number of years, so that definitely interests me," Schizas said. "It's unfortunate and unfair girls aren't able to see Canadian women play sport in their own country."