To be a woman in South Africa means you will never be the player who scores the Springboks winning try in the Rugby World Cup. To be a woman in Canada means you will never be the hero who brings home hockey’s most prestigious award. To be a woman in Iran means you cannot be a spectator in a football stadium, united under your flag, to cheer your nation to victory.
Sunday, as the 21st FIFA World Cup comes to an end, the world will yet again for the 21st time cheer on teams of men, their national heroes who are setting new standards and inspiring young kids. But to one day be one of these heroes can never be a little girls dream because women are absent from the major national sporting leagues and international tournaments (with exception of the Olympics).
Even women who perform in women’s leagues are treated liked second-class citizens. Female athletes are paid less than their male counterparts, get less commercial contracts, and make less of a national name for them
Malawi is a case in point. In recent years female athletes have made it big in netball and boxing yet, they get little or no sponsorship. Anisha Bashir is the reigning Commonwealth super lightweight champion and African Boxing Union champion and Helen Simwaka won the World Boxing Federation Bantam weight title. Historically the media never gave these women enough publicity. Even when women athletes outperform the men, the government offers little funding for women’s sports to nurture their talents and skill set.
If women are outperforming men then the question becomes “are men really better athletes naturally or is it just that gender biases determine whose athleticism is honed?” Girls are often left untrained and ignored compared to young boys because of the belief that they will never be as strong, and therefore their sports never as entertaining, as that of men.
Women can start getting on equal footing ground with male athletes if they are seen and heard with fellow male athletes. Maybe it’s time major sports leagues and tournaments, like the World Cup, start selecting from the best pool of male athletes and reserving portions of their teams for the best female athletes.
Women have different talents and attributes than men such as better stamina and leg strength. Research also shows that women have to be more tactful than men, not being able to rely on brute strength to get the job done. These attributes make for a more entertaining dynamic team.
In terms of meritocracy, women athletes have to work just as hard as men, if not more, to reach their level of athleticism, yet receive only a quarter of the recognition, money, and fame. They deserve to be allowed a space on large international arenas to show off their hard work to the world.
Sports are a social institution that has the power to bind people together regardless of religious, social, or political beliefs.
“Sport,” Nelson Mandela said, “has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
You girls need to see their heroes too, and not just as an afterthought to the men’s games and tournaments. For any person, to see achievement representative of who they are and what they look like is incredibly empowering.
Are sports really about watching the biggest and strongest fight one another or is it more about uniting people under a common goal, to bring community together? And community cannot be brought together when half of it is sitting on the sidelines.