Gender imbalance in Varsity


The NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB are the four major sports leagues in North America. Though each of these leagues represents a different sport, there’s something all have in common: the athletes are all males.

The excessive media coverage of these sports seems to have made being a professional athlete synonymous with being male. A report published in December 2013 by the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto reveals a gender imbalance in varsity sports, not only at U of T but throughout the CIS.

The report is the second in a series by U of T researchers Peter Donnelly, Mark Norman, and Bruce Kidd to reveal that effort to reduce gender inequality in varsity sports has actually regressed since it was last assessed in 2011. The report states that although female students make up 56% of the student population in post-secondary institutions, they account for only 43% of varsity athletes, one percent lower than in 2011.

Additionally,  according to the report, the proportion of female coaches has declined from 19% to 17%, with more male coaches coaching female teams.

Donnelly, the director of U of T’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies, says that the CIS currently has policies in place to combat this gender imbalance.

“[The] CIS has [a] good gender equity policy that they aren’t enforcing, and these reports are intended to provide evidence for CIS to see how its policies are working, or not, and to take steps to produce a more fair sport system,” he says.

The athletes themselves have noticed this inequity, but as varsity football player and second-year criminology major Kevin Williams says, the gender imbalance may not be the fault of the university but rather a result of the lack of female sports leagues available to youth throughout their formative years in elementary school and high school.

“I think if there was more emphasis [on] getting girls into sports at younger ages, then universities would be able to offer more to female students in terms of varsity sports,” says Williams.

Despite the inequity among athletes, there’s still some good to take away from the report: in particular, that the number of inter-university teams available for females and males is near equal, and that the number of females in athletic director positions has gone up.

In addition, Donnelly states, U of T is one of the more equitable universities in inter-university sports, although there are still ways that the university can improve. “I think U of T athletics should take a hard look at the university’s equity policies, recognize the implications, legal and moral, of running a gender segregated department in an inequitable way, and figure out how to achieve more fairness for students, and in leadership,” he says.

Donnelly believes all Canadian universities should integrate a Rooney Rule for hiring coaches, where female candidates should be required to be considered for any coaching position.

“At the very least, for women’s teams,” he says. “I often hear that it’s difficult to find experienced women coaches, but even men start out without any experience—they aren’t born with it—and yet they’re hired to coaching positions.”

As U of T and other Canadian universities strive to fix this issue, Donnelly notes that the culture itself in North America privileges a male-dominated university sports scene. “I think media, and an associated male sports culture, have helped to create the idea that there are a few ‘real’ sports, which has been a terrific marketing strategy for those who make a profit from those few sports,” he says. “Fortunately, lots of people, including many women, recognize that there are lots of real sports, including women’s versions of the male professional sports. Media, including student newspapers, who devote most of their coverage to the cliché masculine sports, just help to propagate this.”