Gender equity in varsity sports

At U of T, where 44% of full-time undergraduate students are male and 56% are female, you would expect to see this ratio reflected in the number of varsity sports roster spots offered. But that is not the case. Instead, 56% of the roster spots are allotted to male students and 44% to female students. Now, whereas 1.1% of U of T undergraduate females are involved in varsity sports, 1.8% of males are involved. This gender difference becomes much more pronounced at the coaching level, where 80% of U of T’s head coaches are male and only 20% are female.


U of T’s Centre for Sports Policy Studies is trying to make the public aware of this. In October 2011, director Peter Donnelly, professor Bruce Kidd, and PhD candidate Mark Norman released a report analyzing gender equity in varsity sports in Canada. This is the first report of its kind; the Centre plans to release a new report every two years.


Donnelly, Kidd, and Norman focussed on two areas in their report: participation opportunities and leadership. The authors excluded football from their results because the large number of roster spots in this male-only sport makes determining equity difficult.


The report’s results show that across Canada, males and females each have half of the participation opportunities at university; however, because males represent only 44% of undergraduate students, they have an unfair advantage. Approximately 3% of undergraduate men make a varsity team, whereas just under 2% of undergraduate women make a varsity team. On a national level, few women are involved in leadership roles. Female head coaches make up 19% of all Canadian head coaches, and only 17% of athletic directors are female.


For example, at Concordia University in Québec, even though enrolment is split 50/50 between males and females, male undergraduate students are given almost twice as many roster spots as female undergraduate students. Meanwhile, Cape Breton University employs only male coaches.


The authors found that male students, who already enjoy more opportunities to participate in interuniversity sport compared to female students, also receive more athletic financial awards than female athletes. At the national level, in 2009–2010, 58% of all AFAs went to males. In Québec, the funds are even more disproportionate. While 58% of athletes in Québec are male, 69% of AFAs go to males.


The authors stress that it is important to work towards proportionally representing females on varsity teams because student fees represent a major contribution to funding varsity sports. It’s not fair for one gender to disproportionately fund the athletic opportunities of the other.


There are a few universities working against this trend. At the University of PEI, the varsity teams are balanced to reflect their enrolment. Females make up 62% of all full-time undergraduate students and have 61% of all roster spots. At Royal Military College, roster spots are skewed in favour of females. Female students make up just 22% of the student population, but they have 31% of the roster spots.

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