Some thoughts on women in sport and the world cup

I’m not an athlete anymore but I was once. Watching the women’s world cup I see certain things that remind me of stuff that happened to me and the way women in sports are viewed. Sometimes there are boundaries and ideas that women shouldn’t play sports or that women can’t be as good or that a certain thing is for boys. Sometimes they’re little things that you don’t notice. Sometimes they’re bigger and more obvious.

Fortunately I think those things are starting to change. I say that in part because I’m an optimist and in part because I think that we can either whine and feel sorry for ourselves or we can be thankful for the strides we’ve made and go out to make more.

As much as we’ve heard complaints about the turf people haven’t been grateful enough that the tournament is being held in a place where people actually care about it. In part because of the success of the Canadian team at the Olympics and Christine Sinclair’s general existence Canadians are excited about the tournament.The highlights are making sports centre and we’re watching the games. People have lined up for meet and greets. There are big loud crowds at all the games. That is a lot more than we’ve seen at the U20 men’s world cup where the bleachers are pretty much empty. Not a flag or fan can be seen in most seats.

Perhaps we could spend a little less time complaining about turf and spend more time being excited that the sport is growing and the tournament is being held somewhere that people are interested in it.

Which brings me back to where I began this potentially not very well-written blog post began: women in sport and me previously as a female athlete. I did a sport that is small and not very popular. I can name all the people I competed against and with. Fencing has a few different weapons in it and I decided that I wanted to do one that didn’t have that many women competing in it. One of the perks of this was that I got to be a part of a small community of athletes. The downside was that it took me years to convince my coach to let me try sabre. Part of his reservation was that I was laid back and he didn’t think I was aggressive enough, which may or may not have been true. I was probably better suited to foil but it wasn’t what I wanted. The other reservation was that he was an old school coach raised in a former communist country. Women’s sabre was just beginning and he didn’t think it was a great idea for a girl to get into it. It was only after repeatedly asking to join the class and taking advantage of the lack of competitors by default qualifying for a couple of events that I got my chance. Over time he begrudgingly accepted that it was what I wanted to do but it wasn’t a path he wanted.

It’s weird to think about that individual level of thinking I want to do that and having people say no you’re a girl not for you. I didn’t really notice it and it worked out in the end. As easy as it is to be bitter and brash and angry about the inequalities in this world it won’t really help. Anger is too easy. Instead we can give girls the chance to play and change the world that they leave behind them. The legacy of this team and tournament is that a lot of young girls will say I want to do that. A lot of men and boys will also stop and say they’re pretty good. Stop complaining about turf and step up as a role model. The sport isn’t on the same levels as the men’s game but it’s growing. Be realistic but keep pushing forward. Fewer young girls will be told that soccer or any sport isn’t a real option for them. For now we just have to keep ignoring the voices that say otherwise.

Sinclair is a household name and some of her teammates are trying to prove that they should be too. Fox has erected a massive pavilion to cover the heck out of the tournament. (Unsurprisingly they decided that hanging out on Vancouver’s waterfront was more fun than elsewhere in Canada. Watching it makes me miss the city.) I am not watching the women’s world cup just to support women in sport I’m doing it because I like to watch good soccer and hopefully to see Canada kick some ass. That’s the start of something.

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