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Sports Women

Introduction

Sport is an accepted part of life. The opportunity to take part in sporting activities is a basic human right whether you are competing for trophies or playing purely for enjoyment. However many people suffer from restrictions that prevent them from taking part in sport. It is not always the fact that people are not interested or do not want to.

A number of people view sport as an activity that was somewhat forced upon them at school or something they see on television that is way beyond their capabilities. But sport is an extremely diverse quarter, involving many activities and catering for people of different shapes and sizes, levels of skill and personalities.

It is well known that football in the UK is most commonly played in organised leagues on Sunday mornings. There are voluntary sports clubs enabling millions of members the chance to get involved and many more participate regularly in leisure outside a structured league or set up, whether it be a walk in the park or a kick about in the garden.

The vast majority of the population in Britain however do not participate and worryingly, the activity levels in the youth, who were previously the most active division of our population, are falling drastically, in connection with the rising fear of an obese population. A BBC Panorama programme shown in November 2006 proved that in America, a country with more resources than most, participation levels are very low - and falling. Perhaps this is why Americans are credited as being the fattest nation on earth?!

There are many limitations on participation. In the past sport has been closely linked to education and many people's only sporting experience was through compulsory and often harsh physical education lessons. For the non-sporty, obese or self-conscious, many are unfortunately put off for life. This is closely linked with both gender and ethnicity, with the worry of most teenage girls focused on looking look, rather than partaking in exercise, and for the ethnic minority to feel just as welcome to play a part as the majority.

In our culture, sport has always been seen purely as a non-serious recreation; many other more important issues require attention before you turn to sport. Often at school, academically superior students are encouraged to move away from sport so that they can concentrate more time on their studies.

Some of us in the UK must 'pay to play'. There are requirements to pay club subscriptions, fees and facility costs, as well as providing our own equipment and kit. For some, this cost issue is enough to deter them from sport or prevent them from allowing their children to join clubs.

With relation to class and money, often sports such as fox hunting and polo are available to you providing you have the upbringing and money to back your selection up. If our parents were involved in sport we are more likely to grow up with a sporting background, and if our parents or into sports the family are heavily involved in a certain sport, we are further expected to be introduced to that sport at an earlier age and in more depth.

Are there decent facilities provided? Equipment?

Are the facilities that allow you to participate available to you? The UK Government believes there is a shortage of facilities and those that do exist are often situated in particular areas. Living in central city areas presents injustice against you for the reason that there is little space and sometimes money provision available in that area. Equipment is also normally required, quite often expensive and those on small incomes may be discriminated against unless equipment is available free or can be hired cheaply.

Is the opportunity to play there? Allowed?

In the UK most committed sport takes place in voluntarily run clubs or organisations. Clubs have membership systems and are controlled by either in some cases such as golf clubs, election to the club membership or the ability to pay the fees. This then limits membership to certain members of the community.

An additional consideration for the person is whether they actually have the time free to play. This problem often faces women. The pressure and demands of family and work often mean that women have little relaxation time which accounts in some way for the below average levels of female participation in sport.

Are you respected enough in sport?

In many cultures, society has the opinion that women should not play a part in sport, and should they do so, their input should be limited to 'feminine' sports such as gymnastics and not male oriented sports such as football, rugby or cricket. These judgements are based on the conventional roles both women and men hold in today's society and are very hard to change. Minority groups within communities are often labelled as having certain qualities or traits which lead to them being steered into particular positions, sports or activities and away from others.

An example of this is the current lack of Asian or Muslim footballers in the UK. Programmes are now being set up to make an effort and address the imbalance but the main problem is that in our common opinion; Asians are not prospective and good enough footballers. These stereotypes often lead to the people they discriminate believing the opinions are valid and thus conforming to society's view, choosing the sports that fit them.

Gender

Each year, 33% of all men participate in some form of sporting activity, whereas only 10% of women do. As women make up over 50% of the British population this points to some form of discrimination. (Sports Development UK 1999/2000)

There have been many myths about women and sport and although these have now been largely banished, numerous people still hold some belief in them. McPherson, Curtis and Loy, 1984, p222, say 'During World War II, women played major roles in the military and civilian labour force, thus shattering myths of the fragile female'. Other struggles concern time - women, due to the constant everyday demands of work and family, tend to have much less spare time than men, curbing their opportunities to enjoy partaking in sport.

As mentioned before, girls at a teenage age are often much more concerned with the way they look without makeup on in PE lessons, or in their unflattering sports kit. Nearly a quarter of women say that PE at school put them off sport for life, (Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation 2007).

They are self-conscious with the way they look, particularly when growing as everyone develops at a different rate. Less developed girls are more likely to skip sport and exercise should they know they are going to feel embarrassed around more developed girls their own age. However Brown 1985, p225 states that 'the processes of withdrawal for adolescent swimmers include a decreasing importance in one's self-identity...' suggesting that adolescent girls are put off sport in other ways.

However times are changing. According to Coakley (2001) p203, there are numerous reasons why we are experiencing increased participation amongst women and girls in sport. To name a few, it states that more females are interested and joining in with exercise because:

  • Equal rights legislations have been passed meaning there is no longer such a drastic gender divide. The debate for equal winning cash prizes at Wimbledon for both men and women is an example of the rise of women's power in sport.

  • Expanding health and fitness culture - we live in a world where fitness an body image are determining what we eat and wear and the need to keep up to date mean people are now taking more of an interest in diet and exercise than they did years ago.

  • There is increasing sports coverage of feminine sports and women role models within sport. 'Even the most casual observer has noticed that women receive less sports coverage from the press, radio, or television for their sport involvement.' (Hilliard 1984) If you were to take a random look at the BBC SPORT website you would see a range of sports advertised now concerning both women and male athletes. This would have been unheard of a number of years ago. The site would have been dominated by male participation as that had the most visual and audible coverage elsewhere. The women's football world cup was broadcast live on national television and Ellen MacArthur is now a household famous name because of her achievements in her sport.

Ellen MacArthur, www.gettyimages.co.uk

Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation

Founded in 1984, it is the only organisation in the UK that is solely committed to improving and promoting opportunities for women and girls in sport at every level. Research done by the Women's Sports Foundation, finds that:

  • Nearly a quarter of women say that PE at school put them off sport.

  • And 9 out of 10 women believe there is too much pressure to be thin and that a quarter of women agree that they hate the way they look when they exercise and play sport.

(Women's Sports Foundation, 2008)

Class

The upper classes have by tradition had the most relaxation time which they filled with fashionable sports such as hunting. The middle class modernized sports and made their own rules. The lower working class were allowed to participate in sport, but only after they had finished their work so filling the role as the spectator.

Gruneau (1975) p 183, suggests that 'modern sport actually contributes to the reinforcement of class distinctions.' By emphasising the classes associated with different sports and the public being put off playing sports because of the class they are associated with, we give in to this type of discrimination.

For some, this cost issue is enough to prevent them from sport or avoid them from allowing their children to join clubs. With relation to class and money, often sports such as fox hunting and polo are available to you providing you have the upbringing and money to back your selection up.

If our parents were involved in sport we are more likely to grow up with a sporting background, and if our parents or into sports the family are heavily involved in a certain sport, we are further expected to be introduced to that sport at an earlier age and in more depth.

Class is a major problem in introducing children to new sports. As the most common way of being introduced to a sport is at school, kids at state schools will never be able to play polo, go rowing or other sports such as shooting and even rugby. Whereas should you be of the right class to send your children to public schools then they are able to partake in such sports.

Rugby has been a major and popular sport in the UK where the different forms of the game have been associated with class. Rugby has two forms, union and league with union being mostly played by upper class gentlemen and league played by the working and middle class.

Race/ Ethnicity

The UK is a multicultural nation, which a enormous mixture of races. A major discriminator in the world of sport is the colour of someone's skin and is a topic where stereotypes dominate people's opinions. 'During some periods of history, members of specific ethnic groups have tended to dominate particular sports. At other times, members of certain ethnic groups have experienced discrimination within sport settings' (The Social Significance of Sport p. 208)

Sporting Equals - The Commission for Racial Equality has introduced with Sport England a national initiative entitled Sporting Equals. This aims to promote racial equality in sport throughout England. (Sport England 2007)

Kick Racism out of Football - Show Racism the Red Card - Campaigns to encourage Black footballers in football, and kick racism out of sport. It is supported worldwide in various sports such as rugby, basketball and football, especially in the Barclays Premiership.

Alongside these two campaigns there is the Racial Equality Charter for Sport. This is a public pledge signed by leaders of sport, committing them to use their influence to create a world of sport in which all people can take part without facing a racial discrimination of any kind.

Racism is a problem we face in all walks of life, not just sport. It is a particular problem in the workplace or in schools. With relation to PE, it is often not just children that are guilty of racist abuse. Many teachers have been accused of favouring white students instead of ethnic students when it comes to choosing teams in lessons or for selection for school teams. This has led to ethnic children thinking they are not good enough and show little future interest in sport.

Chu and Griffey, 1982, suggest that 'little if any permanent change in attitudes or prejudices occurs from participating on an interracial team'. The people who discriminate against black people or those of an ethnic minority are those who have dealt with the minority and choose to accept the societal view that the ethnics, with lack if numbers comes lack of talent or ability.

Age

The age group with the greatest participation in sport used to be the 16-24 year olds, with over 60%. Above this age the rate drops dramatically - only 16% of people over 60 or more take part in any exercise. In today's society, sport is definitely aimed at the young. Events such as the Masters Football Tournaments and the Golden Olympics are attempting to make sport a 'lifetime' activity.

Ability

Your ability in a particular sport can also be a discriminator. Most clubs' teams allow only the most talented players, often selected through trials, to play. Those who are not particularly talented are left with few alternatives. In some sports such as football, it may be possible for less able players to join a 'lower' league such as Sunday morning pub football and rugby clubs often rub social teams. In schools this is particularly a problem for teachers or coaches. Who do you pick for the school team - the best talented players, or do you give all those who attend practices or show an interest a chance?

People with disabilities have, until recently, had little opportunity to take part in sport. Nearly all the facilities were built before the nineties were built sorely for the able bodied. Prospects for disabled sportsmen and women are now growing and all new sports facilities offer access for people of all abilities.

The sports have played a huge and important role in this and events like wheelchair basketball and the Paralympics have helped disabled athletes partake in sport. Organisations such as the British Paralympic Association and the British Sports Association for the Disabled encourage sport for the disabled but they remain a minority and only in a few sports such as bowls can disabled people participate on a level basis as able bodied competitors.

"I don't think women will ever totally mimic male athletes, not because they are morally superior but because of sexism. We won't allow women the same degree of freedom" Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Centre for Research on Girls and Women in Sport (2000)

Sport for all Campaign

Set up in 1972, the campaign highlights the importance of sport and the fact that it is something to which all members of the community are allowed equal access to. It primarily hoped to increase the opportunities for sport by developing extra and better facilities and educating the public on what was on offer to them.

More recently however it has targeted groups of the community that remain under-represented in sport. They have been assisted in the set-up of other campaigns such as '50+' aimed at older people and 'What's your Sport?' aimed at women

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