Choose to Challenge: Reasons to hope for women's sport in today's climate

Bobsleigh pilot Cynthia Appiah, water polo player Krystina Alogbo, Chantal Vallee, head coach of the University of Windsor Lancers women's basketball team, and Canadian MP and former sprint kayaker Adam van Koeverden joined CBC Sports' Andi Petrillo for the 'Choose to Challenge' panel on Monday.

Panel discusses how women's sports have grown, but needs to be challenged to grow

Canadian bobsleigh pilot Cynthia Appiah was one of four members on the 'Choose to Challenge' panel discussion that took place Monday. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Canadian bobsleigh pilot Cynthia Appiah believes that it's time issues regarding women's sports move beyond just a conversation.

Appiah, who took part in the 'Choose to Challenge' panel discussion hosted by CBC Sports' Andi Petrillo on Monday as part of International Women's Day, would like to see more traction when it comes to getting women into leadership roles.

"I can just speak to my sport, but there aren't a lot of women sitting at the table making decisions," the Etobicoke, Ont., native said. She added that some of these decisions "negatively impact the women that are currently in the sport."

For Appiah, part of the solution is to have more representative voices at the table. "Whether it's coaching, physiotherapy, administration — there's just so many roles that could include women and it'll just make it a more well-rounded system," she said.

Appiah was joined on the panel by Canadian water polo player Krystina Alogbo, former Hamilton Honey Badgers head coach and general manager Chantal Vallée and Liberal MP and former sprint kayaker Adam van Koeverden.

Representation, coverage and investment were the key topics of discussion, as well as their impact on issues like the drop-out rate for women and girls in sports.

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Vallée, who is now the head coach of the University of Windsor women's basketball team, said the media has an important role to play in this as well.

"Everything that we grow up to believe, think, act, do, emulate, comes from TV, comes from role modelling, comes from people that we see out there. I think the role of the media is so critical to change the narrative, said Vallée, who is originally from Montreal.

"If [the] media continues to only show three to six per cent of women on TV or write about three to six per cent of women in sports in print or social media, it's not going to change.

"If people see the value of women on TV they'll be willing to then pay for sponsorship because there's going to be viewership that changes the entire narrative."

Van Koeverden said addressing the issue of the high drop-out rate is critical. "I think it's really, really important that we identify the root causes of these dropouts and figure out why this is," he said.

Despite the longstanding issues, the panel members see hope. "I think people have taken more time to listen and start opening up," said Alogbo, who recently retired from the national water polo team after a 15-year career. "We are noticing but I think people are acting more upon it."

Alogbo, who continues to play professionally with CSS Verona in Italy while also coaching, said the COVID-19 pandemic made things more challenging. Fortunately, she said, sponsors have been supportive.

"They're trying to be there for every single athlete of mine," she said.

"So I hope that this will keep going and that we start here in Verona and eventually go big or people are just going to copy what we're doing."

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