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Funding doesn’t add up in women’s university athletics

by Archives March 29, 2006

WINDSOR, ON (CUP) — While women continue to participate in interuniversity sports nearly at the same level as men, women’s sports still lag behind in terms of funding.

Marge Holman, the University of Windsor’s long-time advocate for women’s sports, also views the need to improve women’s sport in Canada. Holman was one of the first female university sports directors in Ontario in the 1970s.

“There’s still a huge amount to be done because we’re still a long ways from having equitable programs for our females compared to our males,” Holman said. “Yes, things have improved dramatically but mainly at the participatory level where we’re a little more sensitive to providing more equal opportunities for females.”

In May 2005, Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) released a report outlining the equitable practices of the sports departments in Canadian universities. Surveying over 40 member universities, CIS found progress has been made, but there is room for improvement.

Many members reported that their institutions have clear employment equity statements and have systems in place for equitable allocation of resources. Eighty-four per cent of the schools reported equitable modes of team travel, 79 per cent in equipment needs, and 72 per cent in exhibition competition opportunities.

According to Holman, giving equitable funds in this manner only shows part of the overall situation.

“Our women are subsidizing the men in terms of student fees,” Holman said.

“It’s shown in the opportunities available to them and the quality of those opportunities. When I talk about quality, they’ll say meal money is the same, travel arrangements are the same but there are still some discrepancies in coaching, there are still some discrepancies in schedules and the real big one that’s not tangible are the discrepancies in treatment.”

This may be true as the CIS survey revealed the growing problem of fundraising and/or alumni contribution for women’s sports. According to the report, only 47 per cent of the respondents reported to have achieved equitable allocation of athletic financial awards while 37 per cent of universities report the equitable provision of athletic financial awards as a future goal.

The report sites men’s teams as having the ability to generate more athletic awards than women’s teams due to their longer histories and larger base of alumni and community support. Lisen Moore, manager of intercollegiate sports at McGill University, believes the problem in alumni funding may lie in the way women donate funds compared to men.

“I think that women are pulled in different directions in terms of donating to different groups such as the United Way or the Cancer Society,” Moore said.

“I think that maybe women don’t usually consider giving back to their university teams as opposed to men who traditionally give on an annual basis. I think women just pick and choose differently,” said Moore.

This problem is further exasperated by the lack of women working within marketing and promotions at universities. Only 49 per cent of the schools reported in achieving equity in their marketing and promotions department with the majority of schools reporting that their time is focused on the teams that attract the most fans.

While this may be a valid argument, there is a danger in neglecting female sports.

“When we talk about marketing and promotions of programs, the marketing and promotions still goes toward the male programs,” Holman said. “Football and men’s basketball will promote themselves. We don’t need to put any energies into their promotion and the more energy we put into their promotion, the wider the gap not just between males and females but also between those males and other males and females.”

One of the major issues facing women’s sports teams involves attendance.

Traditionally popular sports such as football, men’s hockey and men’s basketball usually don’t have a problem with funding partially because of their strong attendance records.

“Corporate and media support is driven by attendance,” said Ross Wilson, Athletic Director of the University of Saskatchewan. “If women supported female teams in greater numbers there would be increased exposure and increased external financial aid.”

Some Canadian universities have already implemented initiatives to help resolve the funding shortfall. Carleton University, the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the University of Waterloo allocated special funds for the enhancement of women’s sport programs. Perhaps not coincidentally, McMaster University and the University of Waterloo are among less than a dozen universities in Canada with a female sports director.

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