Sport. It’s not just a man’s game. But it often feels that way.
Sexism is still alive and well in the sporting world. Although huge strides have been made towards equality since Billie Jean King’s infamous ‘Battle of the Sexes’, there’s still a long way to go.
There are 1.5 million fewer women who regularly participate in sport than men. For women who compete professionally, there are huge pay gaps between female and male athletes. And with very few female governing bodies and qualified coaches, it often falls to the athletes to speak up.
From encouraging more young girls to play sport to speaking out against sexist reporting, women all over the world are working together to change things in sport.
Here are just some of the inspirational women who have made us fall in love with sport all over again:
“We’re at a stage now where it’s all about equality. If a woman wants to play a sport, she can. There’s nothing stopping us.” Nicola Adams
Nicola Adams OBE is a British professional boxer, and was the first woman to ever win a gold medal in boxing at the 2012 Olympics.
Adams stumbled on boxing accidentally. When her mum couldn’t find a babysitter one day, she took her daughter with her to the gym, where Adams ended up in an after-school boxing class. Back then, women’s boxing wasn’t an Olympic sport. But that didn’t stop Adams from deciding that she’d be a champion one day.
Adams has become an LGBT icon in the sporting world, talking freely about her sexuality and her experience of coming out as bisexual.
Now, Adams is preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, where she’s hoping to become the first Briton to win three gold medals in boxing.
“For women in Saudi Arabia, I think this can really spark something to get more involved in sports.” – Sarah Attar
An American-born track and field athlete, Sarah Attar became one of the first women ever to represent Saudi Arabia at the Olympics. Attar has been fiercely inspiring to other women in the strongly-conservative Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t travel, drive or open a bank account.
Attar grew up in America and spent little time in Saudi Arabia. When she did visit the Arab state, she would dress up as a man to go out running, always accompanied by her father. In recent years, several women’s gyms have opened in Saudi Arabia, but women’s fitness is still a foreign concept for much of the country.
Although she finished last in the women’s 800m in the 2012 Olympics, Attar insists that her finishing time wasn’t the point. Under growing International pressure, 2012 marked the first year Saudi Arabia entered female athletes in the Olympics, and Attar was happy to have the chance to inspire other women.
“There were so many of them who tell me this is not possible. And today, I proved it possible.” – Ester Ledecká
Ester Ledecká is a Czech snowboarder and alpine skier. Dubbed the snow queen of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Ledecká became the first woman ever to win two gold medals at the same Winter Olympics. She’s also the first person to win gold in both snowboarding and skiing.
Growing up in Prague, Ledecká knew from the age of five that she wanted to be an Olympic champion. She spent a lot of her time in the mountains growing up, ditching her figure skating lessons to go skiing and snowboarding with her brother. Despite being constantly told to focus on one sport, to throw her heart and soul into snowboarding, Ledecká never listened. She knew she could both.
Even her coach had doubts about her pursuing two sports. After many arguments trying to convince her to focus on snowboarding, he finally gave in. He could see Ledecká’s incredible passion for the two sports, and he didn’t want to change that. Describing Ledecká after her win, he said: “I firmly believe she’s one of the greatest living athletes.”
“What sport does is give you those experiences… those real-life lessons that make you bulletproof.” – Eniola Aluko
Nigerian-born Eniola Aluko isn’t just a fantastic footballer. She’s also a qualified lawyer, and spent about nine hours a day studying for her degree before spending another few hours training on the pitch.
After moving to England with her family when she was a child, Aluko would spend her afternoons playing football with local boys. She quickly realised she was better than them, and went on to play for the England under-17s team. She’s since remained loyal to the England team, competing in several World Cups and the 2012 London Olympics.
She was also signed to Chelsea Ladies in 2012. Back then, being a professional women’s footballer wasn’t an option in Britain. It wasn’t until 2014 that Aluko was able to give up law and play football full time. Whilst she’s happy with this step forward for women, Aluko knows there’s still a long way to go for women’s football.
Recently, Aluko’s found herself at the centre of the FA racism row, after she spoke out against bullying and discrimination from sacked England women’s boss Mark Sampson. Despite pressure from teammates, along with a call for her pay to be withheld unless she said that the FA was not ‘institutionally racist’, Aluko stood her ground. She’s also been a vocal advocate of equal pay for women footballers, citing the pay gap for female soccer players in America as “embarrassing”.
With Aluko’s background in law and passion for the sport, she’s ready to help other women launch their career in football.
Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere & Akuoma Omeoga
“Representation matters. We’re showing people that anyone can do anything.” – Akuoma Omeoga
Each of these women is an inspiration in their own right, but as a team, they’ve made history. In the 2018 Winter Olympics, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga became the first bobsled team to represent an African country.
The three women all grew up in the US with their Nigerian parents. Adigun fell in love with the Olympics, competing as a track and field star before joining the US bobsled team. About a year after joining the team, Adigun realised that Africa had never been represented in bobsled at the Winter Olympics. That’s when she enlisted Onwumere and Omeoga to help her.
With Adigun as the captain, the three women became a team, and have since been hailed as an inspiration by other Nigerian women. Although they didn’t win a medal this year, they’re ecstatic to have had the opportunity to shine a light on Nigeria.
Happy International Women’s Day
These are just some of the inspirational women changing the world of sport. It isn’t by any means a complete list. Female athletes are continuing to make history again and again, paving the way for the next generation.
Here come the girls.
International Women’s Day is on 8 March 2019
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