The first recommendation of the Senate Human Rights committee’s recent report, Level the Playing Field, calls on the Government of Canada to ensure that:
All Canadians have equal opportunities to participate in sport and recreational activities, regardless of disability, gender, culture or ethnic origin; and,
That gender- and diversity-based analysis is incorporated in research as well as in the development and implementation of all government programs and policies concerning participation in sport and recreational activities.
The committee’s report—which focuses on the participation of Canadians with disabilities in sport activities—specifically includes the words, “regardless of gender, culture, and ethnic origin.” As the report observes, “several witnesses noted that girls tend to participate less than boys in physical sports.”
The London 2012 Olympic Games will host five canoe events…none of them for women. Canadian women Laurence Vincent-Lapointe and Mallorie Nicholson are among the fastest female canoeists in the world, and they won’t be allowed to compete at the Olympics.
Former national team cyclist Laura Robinson also points out that while the London Olympics will feature 145 male road cyclists, a maximum of 67 female cyclists will be allowed to compete in the same women’s event. What’s more, she writes, the IOC invites “top mountain biking nations” to send three male mountain bikers, but limits participation to only two women.
What message does this send to women interested in canoeing and biking—that their participation and competition is somehow less valuable, less worthy of celebration, than that of men? It’s no small wonder that our committee’s witnesses have noticed that girls tend to participate less than boys. For starters, the greatest of the world’s sporting institutions, the Olympic Games, systemically limits the participation of women in comparison to men.
There’s good news to share though. “For the first time in the history of the Games, every member nation of the International Olympic Committee will be sending at least one woman to participate this year.”
It’s a good first step, a symbolic victory. All around the world, however, more needs to be done to ensure that everyone has equal access to sport activities regardless of their gender. Even in Canada, as our report outlines, we can take steps to ensure that both girls and boys have opportunities to participate.
How do we do this? The answers are complicated and varied. Not all boys and girls are the same—there are different reasons why some may feel excluded, or why some lack more funding or coaching or encouragement than others. That’s why our committee so strongly recommends gender- and diversity based analysis, a tool “whose objective is to examine the differential impacts on both women and men of government policies, programs, and legislation.”
Canada’s diversity is our greatest strength. It seems so simple, so Canadian, to include everyone in sports, games, and recreation. Yet our committee has identified this as an area where Canada can do even better. Every Canadian—woman or man, girl or boy—should have the right to play.