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Royal Roads University hosts symposium for gender equity in sport

One barrier to sports addressed was lack of physical education in schools
Symposium discussion at Royal Roads University for gender equity in sport brought together former and current Canadian National team athletes and coaches. (Lindsey Horsting/News Gazette staff)

The national women’s rugby team used to have to pay to play to represent Canada.

For the 2014 World Cup, each athlete on the team had to fundraise or pay $12,000 per person to compete.

Player Andrea Burk said the team knew if they wanted to change their reality, performance mattered and they needed to make people aware of what their reality was.

As of 2016, the Canadian women’s national team no longer has to pay to play. Now, they get paid to play.

Theirs was one of the stories highlighted at a recent Royal Roads University symposium on how far women have come in achieving gender equity in sport and what there is left to do.

Jennifer Walinga, a RRU professor in communication and culture, hosted the session as a part of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada-funded study on human rights and social impact in sport.

The study — by Western University professors Alison Doherty and Angela Schneider — identified four areas to explore: para sport, anti-doping, women and gender equity in sport and Aboriginal sport.

Burk, was one of the attendees selected by Walinga to join a discussion panel including 11 former and current Canadian national team members.

She was described by Walinga as a gender equity ‘activist.’ Burk paused when she saw that title following her name, but after thinking about it, in her own way, she is an activist.

“The shift we’ve been able to make collectively, I look back on it and say we have changed the game, and I guess I am a bit of am activist even though I was never waving a flag saying ‘I’m an activist’ at the beginning of it,” Burk said.

She said it feels natural to her to press for more gender equity in sport and that when people stand up for what they believe, the reach is immeasurable. Her friend once told her that Johnny Cash never thought he would be Johnny Cash when he wrote the song I Walk the Line.

She thought the panel was a success and “wants to continue to challenge the unconscious bias around gender equity in sports, how women are viewed in general and how female athletes are viewed,” she said. “I’d love to see a place where women’s and men’s sports are held on an equal playing field.”

Doherty and Schneider were given the grant last May and the project will be completed in October. They decided to come to Royal Roads because Walinga teaches and is involved with women in leadership, which both thought is a good fit for the topic.

The symposium was the first official workshop they have had and Doherty said the insight and discussion has set the bar high. There were athletes, coaches, leaders, men and women in different generations, she said.

“Some things we heard here that I have not heard before and that’s pretty exciting because we might hear the same things we always hear and that’s fine, it reinforces it, but we’ve heard some new things and there were some power brokers at that table,” Doherty said.

The group discussed sport milestones, barriers and goals, education of sport and the way female athletes are framed in the media.

A reoccurring theme during the symposium was the lack of physical education in schools. Doherty said it was identified as a barrier to sport, but it’s also an opportunity for improvement.

“I personally find that very important because education is a public service, and sport is not, sport is for those who can afford it and who can get to it. So if you take sport out of schools you take it away from a lot of people,” she said.

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