Varsity striker Ellish McConville steals ball from Gee-Gees defender in Ontario University Athletics quarter finals Varsity striker Ellish McConville steals ball from Gee-Gees defender in Ontario University Athletics quarter finals
Last week, University of Toronto professors released the first report to provide a comprehensive gender equity analysis of Canadian interuniversity athletics. Professors and students at the University of Toronto Centre for Sport Policy Studies collected and analyzed data from the 2010-2011 academic year in an attempt to produce an unbiased gender ratio on Varsity and interuniversity teams.

“From an independent perspective this is what it looked like,” said one of the project leaders, University of Toronto Faculty of Education Professor Peter Donnelly, of the male to female ratio in university athletics. While the initiative has been on the docket for years, the centre finally found the right group of students—and the right amount of funding—to conduct a nationwide analysis on all sports at a competitive level.

“Equity efforts peaked in the late ‘90s,” said acting warden at Hart House and the study’s other leader, Professor Bruce Kidd, “and it’s an elusive problem that we need to bring back people’s attention to.”

The good news is that there are nearly as many Varsity teams for women (425) as there are for men (431) at Canadian universities. The bad news is that there are disturbingly few women in leadership positions in Canadian university sports, with women holding only 19 per cent of the head coach positions, and only 17 per cent of the athletic director positions.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the official governing body of sport in Canadian universities, has conducted similar research to determine the degree of equity in athletic participation opportunities. In an effort to promote equity, defined by CIS as “treatment that is just and fair,” CIS mandates that its member universities must have an equal male to female ratio in interuniversity sport opportunities.

The issue with this policy, however, is that most universities do not have equal enrollment numbers between genders. The U of T full-time student body is comprised of 46 per cent male students, but men enjoy 56 per cent of Varsity roster positions. While the numbers published by CIS are nearly at their target, Donnelly said, “They have kind of massaged it in the general direction.” He cited that CIS only includes football players on the tournament roster, rather than every player on the university team funded by university athletics fees.

“The big issue is that every woman student is paying for athletic fees each year,” said Donnelly, who suggested female students ought to insist on paying only the percentage of fees allocated for female Varsity sports in the hopes of putting pressure on universities to progress their equity policies in athletics.

The 50/50 target may not be too far out of reach, but the low ratio of women occupying leadership positions in university sports is cause for concern. CIS holds certain policies for their member universities to promote equal participation for male and female students on teams, but the governing body cannot mandate whom universities choose to hire.

CIS CEO Marg McGregor said, “What was not referenced in the report is that CIS does have industry leading practices to encourage leadership policies.” McGregor cited that CIS requires half the board of directors to be female. A motion to remove this mandate was recently made, but later rejected.

The report recommends that CIS and university athletic departments determine ways leadership positions may be made more available for women. It also suggests implementing repercussions for failing to adhere to any prospective equity policies. As it stands, CIS has investigative procedures to ensure policy adherence but trusts universities to self-disclose their own transgressions.

McGregor affirmed, “We [CIS] welcome the research because it will inform our ongoing work in the gender area.” CIS is anticipating the results of a transgender policy currently in development by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which aims to address issues of a two-gender approach to sport. “CIS will be adapting that [policy] as appropriate,” said McGregor.

Kidd terms the current plateau in equity progress a “remasculinization of sport,” and calls the recently published research a report card, meant to encourage every member of the university community to consider the ways to reinstate this progress effectively.

However, the unequal distribution of women students in Varsity athletics pales in comparison to other university departments such as engineering, in which female students accounted for just below 22 per cent of the total number in 2009. Additionally, while gender ratios remain unequal in many university domains, the athletic arena has yet to see comparable research in racial equity. No official project has been affirmed, but the Centre for Sport Policy Studies recognizes the need for such research.

The centre plans to make this the first in a series of biannual reports to assess gender equity data in university athletics. Though public for barely one week, the first has already sparked debate. “The good news is that we’ve already got a slew of emails,” said Kidd, “And most of all we wanted to put this issue on the agenda.”

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: U of T Centre for Sport Policy Studies analyzes equal opportunities for university students, gender based
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