'We kick balls, Deal with it'.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2019, ‘#BalanceforBetter’ calls for a more gender-balanced world. As a bastion of hegemonic masculinity, sport is couched within and reproduces dominant and enduring structures and discourses that contribute to this imbalance.
As a result women are under-represented as active sports participants, fans, volunteers, coaches, leaders, managers and members of executive boards. Women make up 65% of the volunteering workforce across all volunteering activities in the UK but are under-represented as volunteers in sport. On the global stage, the 2012 Olympics were heralded as the ‘Equality Games’. Perhaps a rather bold ambition given that in reality there remained significant areas of inequality including: differences in funding and sponsorship between men and women; differences in publicity and media representation; the re-emergence of sex testing for women athletes; and gender-based structural and rule differences in some sports. Whilst women made up approximately half of the athletes, only around one fifth of the International Olympic Committee’s members were women, and 10% of Olympic coaches were women (an enduring statistic from at least five Olympic cycles).
Within the UK many sport governing bodies and clubs also demonstrate these kinds of inequalities and imbalances. Football is a case in point - it has not been that long since Andy Gray and Richard Key’s infamous questioning of Sian Massey’s knowledge and abilities as a linesperson because of her gender. Despite being founded in 1954, it took UEFA 26 years to have a woman in a decision making position. FIFA took 25 years after creating a women’s committee to appoint a woman chair. And, the first official FIFA women’s World Cup only began in 1991, even though FIFA was founded in 1904. White men continue to dominate key decision making positions as presidents, vice-presidents, executive committee members and senior coaches of men’s and women’s national teams and at elite level clubs.
Yet, change is happening within sport, as women refuse to be confined to narrowly defined gender roles and are making inroads in different ways. For instance, the 2012 Olympics achieved a higher percentage of women athletes than any previous Summer Olympics; women competitors in every sport, including boxing for the first time; and no countries prevented women from participating in the Olympics. Two of America’s most popular sports, basketball and American football, have recently begun to appoint women coaches to the full time staff – Becky Hammon to the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 and Jen Welter to the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. Women continue to make inroads in football: presenters like Jacqui Oatley, Eilidh Barbour, Sue Smith, and Alex Scott are regular contributors; the development of the Women’s Super League; coverage of some women’s games on mainstream television; and the continued growth of girls and women playing the game.
‘Monday Night footy’ (MNFC) makes a small contribution to these kind of changes. MNFC is an inclusive space organised by a group of women for women to train and play football. The group meet every Monday evening from 6.00pm on the small astro at Leeds Beckett University to play and socialise for an hour. The session attracts a wide variety of women of differing abilities including staff, students and members of the wider community. Now in its 19th year the session is open to anyone – from complete beginner to the next Marta! The session can be as competitive or as non-competitive, as energetic or as laid back, as you like. The emphasis is on fun and enjoyment. As the recent ‘This Girl Can’ campaign emphasises …. ‘We kick balls. Deal with it’.
Annette is a Principal Lecturer and Course Director in the Physical Education Academic Group where she teaches on, and oversees provision of, the Physical Education undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes. Her teaching is underpinned by research with a social justice agenda.