History to be eligible for such an event. The

Since ancient times women have been discriminated against (International Olympic Committee,
2016). Not only were women denied equal property, voting, and marriage rights, they were also
regarded as weaker and generally lesser than men, and women were even discriminated against
in their participation in sports (Eisenberg & Ruthsdotter, 1998). This perpetual inequity became
evident with the emergence of the Olympic Games. Only male athletes were able to participate
(Bos, 2016). Unfortunately, at this time, women were likely not even considered to be eligible
for such an event. The Olympics was an event that required strength, stamina, and agility; all
traits that a women could ‘never’ possess. To add insult to injury, equestrian events were the
only events that women could be a part of – but not as participants – merely as owners of
competing horses (Bos, 2016). How shocking that there was a time, not that long ago, when
horses were more eligible than women to compete in the Olympics; oh how the world has
changed. But has it changed enough?
Game Changers
Throughout history, many women have made significant achievements toward the advancement
of women in sport. These influential individuals made much needed strides for women, not just
in sport, but in society. Since the start of the twentieth century, women began gaining rights and
freedoms. Around the world women were getting the rights to vote (1893 -2011), divorce,
maintain separate economy, and enjoy equal inheritance (The Nellie McClung Foundation,
2005). Gradually, women started to be regarded as assets rather than accessories. Women had to
fight for equality in school, the workplace, and even within their own homes. As women evolved
from their expected roles as devoted wives and stay at home mothers, their dreams and
aspirations changed with them (Dunlop, 2010). Women now dreamed of being doctors, writers,
and athletes; really anything that they wanted to be. Fortunately, these dreams were no longer out
of reach for women; in sport. At the Paris Olympics of 1924, Gertrude Ederle won a gold medal
and two bronze medals at the age of just 17 (Newsday 2017). Later, in 1926, Ederle became the
first woman, and sixth person ever, to swim 35 miles across the English Channel (Newsday,
2017). It took the 19 year old fourteen and a half hours to swim the freezing channel and she
beat all the previous men’s scores by almost two hours (Newsday, 2017). In 1932, at the Los
Angeles Olympics, the multi-talented Babe Didrikson Zaharias won medals for high jump,
javelin, and hurdles, and in 1938 became the first woman to qualify for, and play in, the men’s
PGA Golf Tour (Newsday, 2017). Another great female athlete is American tennis legend Billie
Jean King, who won a record of 20 Wimbledon titles in her 18 year career (Newsday, 2017). In
1971, King advocated for equal prize money for women and was the first woman to win more
than $100,000 (Newsday, 2017). Her most notable win for women was the “Battle of the Sexes”
match in 1973 against Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon champ who claimed that women’s
tennis was inferior, and bragged that he could beat any woman in the sport (Newsday, 2017).
King defeated him in three sets (Ott, 2015). King was also one of the first popular, openly gay
female athletes in sport (Ott, 2015). Another pioneer was Ann Meyers Drysdale. In 1979, she
signed an NBA contract with the Indiana Pacers (Newsday, 2017). Drysdale was the first woman
to ever be signed and, even though she was cut from the team, Celtics legend Bill Russell said
she was “one of the best players ever,” regardless of gender (Newsday, 2017, pg. 1). Later,
Drysdale became a color commentator for the Pacers, and the first female to broadcast an NBA
game (Newsday, 2017). In 1977, in the male dominated world of Formula One racing, Janet
Guthrie earned a starting spot in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis (Newsday, 2017). Guthrie
was the first woman to compete in NASCAR and set records for women that were not beaten
until 2005 (Newsday, 2017). These are just a few of the women who impacted the world of
sports and broke down barriers for female athletes.
By the end of the nineteenth century, women enjoyed tennis, horseback riding, golf, archery,
skiing, and skating (Marshall, 2015). Nevertheless, these sports were mainly played among
women of the upper class (Marshall, 2015). It was not until the Paris Olympic Games, in 1900,
that women were globally recognized as athletes (International Olympic Committee, 2016). The
IOC (2016) recorded that out of the 997 athletes, 22 were female athletes. At this time, women’s
events included lawn tennis and golf (IOC, 2016). Over the next few Olympics, events for
women were added including: archery, and figure skating, with swimming events added in 1912
(IOC, 2016). Unfortunately, at that time, only men were on the Olympic Committee and so only
they had the power to determine which sports women were ‘capable’ of competing in (Juntendo,
2013). The only events recognized for women were the ones that men considered to be
“feminine”(Juntendo, 2013). However in 1928, women’s athletics and gymnastics were included
(IOC, 2016). It took until 1984 for women to be eligible for shooting, and cycling events (IOC,
2016). In 1996, softball and football were introduced, in 2000 weightlifting, taekwondo, the
pentathlon and the triathlon were added (IOC, 2016). In 2004, wrestling included women for the
first time and, at long last, in 2012, only 6 years ago, women’s boxing made its Olympic debut as
the last remaining sport that did not included women (Wood, 2010). In the Olympics there are
only two sports where men and women compete directly; equestrian and sailing (Wood, 2010).
Although there are still gains to be made, women have come a long way. In 1984, 25% of medals
awarded were in women’s events. In the Rio Games in 2016, women’s events were awarded 44%
of the total medals, setting a record for women (Wood, 2010).
Present Situation – Globally
The first World Conference on Women and Sport was held in Brighton, UK in 1994 (IWG,
2016). This is now known as The International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG)
established as an independent body of governmental and non-governmental organizations,
aiming to empower women and advance their roles in sport (IWG, 2016). Every 4 years, they
host an international conference on women and sport (IWG, 2016). Since 2012 women have
been able to compete in every sport in the Olympic Games, and each new sport added has to
include events for women (Wood, 2010). History was also made in 2014 at the London Games,
when Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent female athletes for the first time, meaning that all 206
countries that compete in the Olympics had sent female athletes (Wood, 2010). Saudi Arabia
allowed two women to compete in judo and the 800 metre (Los Angeles Times, 2012). Saudi
Arabia had previously been criticized for not providing enough opportunities for women to play
and compete in sports, thus this was viewed as a progressive act for women in sport (Los
Angeles Times, 2012). Although minor, it is nonetheless a win. Furthermore, when trainers for
Nike went to Tokyo and Dubai they noticed that exercise was not really a part of the lifestyle in
the same way that it was in the U.S. (Malcolm, 2015). Girls would inquire about whether or not
women having muscular arms was attractive (Malcolm, 2015). However upon returning, the
trainers could discern a noticeable change in the attitude towards exercising and strong women
(Malcolm, 2015).
Present Situation – North America
At the 2014 London Games, for the first time ever, the U.S. team had more female athletes that
males; outnumbering the men 269 to 261 (Los Angeles Times, 2012). In the United States, sports
are almost a religion and women and girls are integral to sport. According to the Tucker Centre
for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, 40% of all participants in sport are female and almost
one third of major sports fans are female (Ottaway, 2016). Women’s progression in sports has
been drastic since the mid 20th century, but the amount of media coverage of female sport has
yet to evolve. Women receive merely 4% of all sports media coverage. Statistically, about 90%
of sports editors are men and in 2014 only 10.2 percent of sports coverage was produced by
women (Ottaway, 2016). That being said, there is still a gap in opportunities for female athletes
in America (Women’s Sports Foundation, 2013). Compared to high school boys, girls receive
1.3 million fewer opportunities and 63,000 fewer at the college level (Women’s Sports
Foundation, 2013).