No Rhyme or Reason to Gender Discrimination in Sport

November 23, 2014


By Danika Heighes – Thompson Rivers University 3L JD Student

Gender discrimination is rampant in sports. Men’s sports are better funded, have more lucrative prizes, greater broadcasting and a greater fan base than women’s sports. This is undeniable and indisputable at both the amateur and professional level both nationally and internationally. However, the international sports community generally does not engage in techniques to combat this gender discrimination. Instead, it is often justified by various sports organizations as a natural by-product of the “higher” intensity of men’s sports.

At 7 pm on November 8th, 2014, Canada and the USA commenced the gold medal game in the 4 Nations Cup, a prestigious women’s hockey tournament which was held in Kamloops, BC, Canada. Also, at 7 pm on November 8th, 2014, the Vancouver Canucks played the Los Angeles Kings in a regular season game in the NHL. Although the Canadian women’s team won the gold medal game in this international tournament, the following day, I heard more about the Canucks 5-1 loss to the Kings. In addition, I would be willing to place a wager that the NHL game was more heavily broadcast as well. For some reason, even in the town that hosted this women’s hockey event, it was less important than a regular season men’s hockey game featuring the nearest team. For whatever reason, the women’s sport fades into the background, and is outshone by its male counterpart. This is the least of the discrimination faced by women in sports.

Currently in Canada, several women’s soccer players have launched a court case against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) stating that their Section 15(1) right to equality under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has been breached. FIFA and CSA have agreed that the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be played on artificial turf rather than grass, while the men’s tournaments have only ever been played on grass. According to the women’s soccer players they are being discriminated against, which prima facie, looks to be an accurate allegation, since the international governing body for football/soccer would never have allowed the men’s premier tournament to be played on a new substance on an experimental basis. Nevertheless, FIFA and CSA deny that this decision is meant to discriminate against the women’s tournament.

These are simply two examples of women’s sports facing discrimination in different ways. There are numerous other examples of gender discrimination in the arena of sports that are even more blatant or subtle, yet the international sports community remains unconcerned. Contrast this complacent treatment of gender discrimination in sport to the outrage of the international sports community at the discrimination of a female spectator at a men’s volleyball game in Iran.

On November 2nd, 2014, an Iranian court sentenced a British-Iranian woman, Ghoncheh Ghavami, to a year in prison in Iran, for spreading propaganda against the system. Ghavami, along with several other people attended a peaceful protest calling for equality outside a volleyball stadium and were allegedly beaten and arrested by police. Specifically, the protest demanded that women be allowed to watch a men’s volleyball match between Iran and Italy in June. In essence she will spend a year in prison for being a woman who wished to watch a men’s volleyball game in an oppressive and patriarchal country.

The international sports community is indignant at this excessive gender discrimination, and rightly so. In fact, volleyball’s governing body (FIVB) has called for Ghavami’s release and has written a letter to the President of Iran. Clearly, the sports community is quick to condemn a patriarchal middle-eastern country for its arbitrary cultural custom of disallowing women from watching men’s sporting events, especially in light of the particularly egregious prison sentence this woman is facing. However, they previously did not take issue with this Iranian custom until this incident.

Quite frankly, it seems that the common practice of the international sports community is to turn a blind eye to gender discrimination until it actively pokes them in the eye. Perhaps this incident will incite the international community to look more closely at gender discrimination within their own sporting organizations. Or perhaps, there will be more and more litigation brought forward by individual players in women’s sports alleging gender discrimination on the basis that it violates Article 2 of the Universal Declaration Human Rights, or similar national legislation.

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