Groups worldwide #EmbraceEquity in sports through impactful IWD events

 February 27, 2023

"I have always believed that people have to feel safe and included to be able to play and enjoy their sport. It is for all of us in the sport family to do our part to achieve that. Sports equity to me is about recognizing that everyone can play an active part in sport. I genuinely believe there is a sport or activity for everyone," remarks Emma Gibson, Head of Sport for the Ann Craft Trust Safeguarding Adults in Sport. Emma is part of a team working to encourage a wider participation in sport or physical activity, as well as safe access for all.

From leisure activities to professional sports, Emma's vision of equity is vital for both women's quality of life and wellbeing to career success. Imbued with important values such as fair play, respect, determination, and teamwork, sport can be a powerful platform for empowering women and girls, and encouraging both individuals and organizations to #EmbraceEquity.

Yet, women are still under-represented in sports, both in terms of participation, coaching, governance, and media coverage, while some sports facilities remain unsafe spaces. Traditionally, sport has been synonymous with 'masculine' traits, such as strength, endurance, speed, and competitiveness. 

Thankfully, progress is being made to break down barriers and harmful stereotypes that restrict women's participation in sport. Around the world, organizations are driving this progress by using International Women's Day (IWD) as a great opportunity to raise awareness around the importance of equity in sport. 

Steering the course for women in sailing

World Sailing IWD event

Events are the cornerstone of IWD, uniting communities under the common cause of embracing equity. 

IWD sees international governing bodies such as World Sailing organize their own events to promote sport equity. Steering the Course, World Sailing's annual women's sailing festival, returns in 2023, with the aim of introducing female sailors to the sport by highlighting the many different pathways and careers available. 

A hugely popular event, Steering the Course brings together 32 national federations, clubs, classes and sailing centers who take part in taster sessions, Learn to Sail courses, Women's Race Days, inspirational talks from female role models, a special eSailing Challenge, and more impactful activities. 

"We had such fantastic participation from across the world last year, and we really hope to build on this momentum. Seeing the impact that the diverse range of activities have had to encourage increased participation from women and girls has been great in the last two years and alongside this we hope to encourage more female officials, coaches, instructors and volunteers to discover the sport or gain new skills," says World Sailing Training & Development Executive, Catherine Duncan

"Our focus this year is on shaping a pathway for women in sailing. We want to highlight the opportunities in different areas of the sport as well as calling out the challenges we know exist in accessing these pathways. We are thrilled our first all-women coaching course in now taking place in Brazil, led by a female coach developer, and can't wait to see the outcome for the coaches. This is the first of many courses of this kind we hope to offer throughout the year," adds World Sailing Head of International Development, Koray Ezer.

Meeting future female sporting superstars 

City of Whittlesea is another governing body that is hosting an IWD #EmbraceEquity event focusing on gender equity in sport. Together with DPV Health, City of Whittlesea in Melbourne, Australia, is hosting a panel discussion on the key factors contributing to gender equity in sports, highlighting and hearing from local sporting clubs who are kicking goals in this space.

The event explores how Mill Park Soccer Club is paving the way for the next Sam Kerr and the benefits of the City of Whittlesea's Female Inclusion in Sports Grants program and theGE3 basketball program. This IWD event is a chance to meet local clubs and future female sporting superstars. 

Spotlighting leaders from first gender equal football club

Lewes Football Club

According to research published by the Northern Ireland Assembly, female role models are "vital" to encourage more girls to play sport and participate in physical activity. Role models help dismantle the perception that sport is unfeminine, and help funnel female talent into professional sport. 

IWD events are spotlighting these inspiring female role models by giving them a platform to share their insights and experiences.

Lewes FC is a UK football club led by the ethos of "doing things differently", particularly in the gender equity space. The first gender equal club in the world, in 2017 Lewes FC equalized the playing budgets and resources allocated to men’s and women’s teams. This pioneering decision has seen an increase in attendances, owner numbers, sponsorships, and media coverage. 

As well as player equality, Lewes FC also has women in its top leadership roles. For IWD, Lane Clark & Peacock is inviting Lewes FC Chief Executive Officer, Maggie Murphy, and Head of Performance, Kelly Lindsey, to talk about their journey in football, everything they have achieved, and what work still needs to be done, for what is sure to be a fascinating discussion about equity in sports.

Awarding-winning coach and sports journalist insight

The Real Estate Institute of Victoria (REIV) is another company spotlighting female role models in sport through an IWD lunch that welcomes award-winning sports professionals, Caroline Wilson, and Bec Goddard.

Sports journalist Caroline Wilson was the first woman to cover Australian Rules Football at the Herald Sun newspaper and in 1989, she was the first woman to win the AFL’s Gold Media Award. Caroline has since won numerous sporting journalism awards including being voted by the AFL Players Association as Football Writer of the Year in 1999 and Most Outstanding Feature Writer by the AFL Media Association in both 2000 and 2003. Caroline has also worked in the UK and Europe where she covered four Wimbledon events, three British Opens, the FA Cup final. In 2010, Caroline was presented with an Australian Sports Commission lifetime achievement award for her contribution to sports journalism. 

Bec Goddard [pictured above] is the current AFLW Head Coach at the Hawthorn Football Club, and has championed the rights of women and young girls to play the sport they choose having equal opportunity to engage at the highest level. In 2017, Bec was named AFLW All-Australian Coach, South Australian Sports Coach of the Year and AFL Football Woman of the Year. In 2021, Bec was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to Australian rules football, and to women in sport.

These dynamic women are sharing their individual stories to demonstrate how everyone can actively support and embrace equity.

Embracing equity in sport leadership

Oxford University Professor

Sport influences many sectors of society, including academia. Many students who study at leading universities and colleges go on to lead successful careers in the sporting world, while academics at these institutions are conducting important research related to sport.

One of the world's most famous universities, the University of Oxford, is also hosting an IWD event through its business school. 

Saïd Business School is facilitating conversation on the topic of embracing equity in the leadership of sport with a panel led by colleague Professor Sue Dopson [pictured above]. 

Panelists Emma Boggis, Jennifer Bishop, and Zainab Alema come from the world of professional sport, where gender bias exists on and off the field. These women are discussing whether progress has been made, what barriers still exist and if this industry could be a beacon of hope for embracing equity elsewhere.

The panelists are all making an impact in different area of the sporting world. Emma Boggis is a University of Oxford alumna, who now works as CEO of the UK government's Sport and Recreation Alliance after involvement in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Meanwhile, business law partner Jennifer Bishop is the founder and chair of Aird & Berlis LLP Sports, Media & Entertainment Group. Jennifer is a frequent speaker on matters relating to business law and gender equity in sport, including the United Nations Special Commission on Women.

The final panelist is Zainab Alema, a professional rugby player who aims to be the first Black Muslim woman to play for England. Named the Sunday Times' Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year in 2020, Zainab also runs an overseas rugby project Studs in the Mud, to help bring positive changes for women and children to get into rugby in Ghana and Morocco. Zainab is smashing barriers and stereotypes alike not only for herself but future generations of women in a male-dominated sport, and is a frequent speaker on matters relating to religion, race and gender equity in rugby. Zainab strives to be a positive voice for the sport and has hopes to inspire and empower the younger generation.

Creating tools to drive actionable change

IWD E-learning modules

While raising awareness is an important first step in embracing equity, taking action is what leads to real change. For IWD, experts are providing tools for people to transform the world of sports for the better. 

As experts in systemic change, Canadian Women & Sport partners with sport organizations, governments, and leaders to build better sport through gender equity. Canadian Women & Sport has created e-learning modules that teach key concepts and practical tools to help sport leaders, such as coaches, support girls' participation in sports over the long-term, create safe and respectful environments, and drive organizational change. Based on research and collaboration with external partners, these modules cover the topics of bias in sport, and drop-out rates from sporting activities among adolescent girls.

In the UK, the Ann Craft Trust’s Safeguarding Adults in Sport offers another online tool that support sports organizations. Safeguarding Adults in Sport Framework implements best practice and develops standards for safeguarding adults in the sport and activity sector. The Safeguarding Adults in Sport Team includes women with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, such as Emma Gibson and her colleagues, Managers Nicola Dean and Cath Sykes.

"What shines for me about this team is the respect we have for each other’s skills, abilities and knowledge. I think we have a commitment to celebrating each other’s work and offering support when we feel it is needed, often before someone asks. And when they do ask for help, we volunteer without expecting anything back. We don’t always agree. However, we can usually come to a consensus based on information rather than on force of personality," explains Nicola. 

"The question for me is always How. How can we create an inclusive culture; How can we equal the balance and how can we make change happen so that women are enabled to thrive and achieve? I guess for me it is about three key things: Leading by example and treating others as you would want to be treated yourself; Listening to our own thoughts, feelings and values and having the conviction to speak up when there is that feeling of inequality or unfairness; Learning from others. There are success stories out there – let’s share them!" adds Cath.

Progressing sport equity for everyone 

The future of sport must be inclusive of all genders, and these organizations worldwide are making moves in the right direction. 

IWD is a valuable opportunity for individuals and groups to take part in or host their own sport and equity event. Yet, promoting equity in sports should remain a focus beyond IWD because, as Nelson Mandela famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."



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