The Rally Report: Encouraging Action to Improve Sport for Women and Girls looks at participation rates of girls, in a June 11, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada participation rates of girls in sport still lag behind boys

TORONTO — Rosie MacLennan said she was fortunate to grow up in an active family. She was encouraged to try a variety of sports.

“So from a young age, building out those fundamental skills, but also exposing me to sports that I wouldn’t necessarily have the chance to do in school, and so kind of giving me the chance to explore and find something that I really connected with and became passionate about,” MacLennan said. “Put me on a field with a soccer ball, and I’m not particularly strong. But put me in the air and I’m a lot more comfortable.”

Girls who aren’t introduced to sports at a young age are far less likely to be physically active as adults.

“If you are exposing kids at a younger age to those fundamental skills, I think that they become more comfortable and confident with a lot of different movement patterns,” MacLennan said. “And then try to introduce them to as many activities as possible, whether it’s through watching the Olympic Games and the variety of sports there, or local programming, that can be really important too.”

The study found differences in participation based on different ethnicities and religions, physical abilities, and socio-economic statuses as well. Caucasian, South Asian, Asian and Black girls are more likely to participate in sports than Indigenous girls. And girls from households with an annual income of over $100,000 are more likely to participate than households under $50,000.

Women are still under-represented in coaching ranks. Just 24 per cent of head coaches of women’s teams in Canadian universities and colleges are women. Just 18 per cent of head coaches of mixed teams are women.

Some of Canada’s biggest sports stars — Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and Kia Nurse to name just three — are women. Women captured 16 of Canada’s 22 medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Sandmeyer-Graves said there is reason for optimism.

“Anecdotally there’s more attention being paid to women’s sports,” she said. ”Government commitments obviously have been quite strong over the last while. There are lots of initiatives happening in sports all across the country. People are reviewing their policies, we are seeing improvements at least at the national level of more women on the boards. So there are things happening. They might just not be translating yet into these large statistical analyses,” she said.

She hopes the Rally Report’s takeaway is that for people already working on achieving gender equity, keep going. And for those who haven’t started paying attention, “there’s no time like the present.”

“We need to start if we’re going to see the kind of change we want to see frankly — I don’t know at this point — within a few generations if we’re lucky,” she said. “There’s stuff happening, and we don’t want the big numbers to obscure that fact. It’s just not happening at scale, and it’s not enough to turn this ship yet.”

The Rally Report: Encouraging Action to Improve Sport for Women and Girls was conducted with IMI International, and collected data from over 10,000 Canadians aged 13 to 63.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2020.

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