Women in sports

Picture from https://www.athleticsweekly.com/featured/olympic-history-womens-800m-47922/

By Clara Harrington

On the evening of September 20th, the BDS and the Feminist Union joined forces to host on campus a two hour seminar on “Women in Sports.” This seminar consisted of two round tables with the discussion topics of (i) the role women play in the governance of sports and (ii) the various elements representing inequality in sports, including but not limited to discrimination of female players, harassment, and inequality in salaries.


The discussion was hosted by various representatives in the sports field: the Vice-President of the French National Olympic Sports Committee (CNOSF), Françoise Sauvageot; Stephanie Cornu-Mahuet, who is in charge of “Women and Sports,” a research project on encouraging young women to pursue sports; Émilie Fer, who won gold at the London 2012 Olympics in kayaking; Céline Lassaigne, the head coach of France’s U16 and assistant trainer to their U19 softball team; Vanessa Seigal, the Departmental Advisor and Vice-President of the Alpes-Maritimes Department in charge of sports; Eric Tanguy, the President of the French Federation of Volleyball, member of the CNOSF Steering Committee, and the Vice President of the The Alpes-Maritimes Departmental Olympic and Sports Committee (CDOS 06); and lastly, Claude Boli, a historian and sociologist who works as the director for the Scientific department at the National Sports Museum in Nice.


Along with these members, the seminar consisted of a diverse body of roughly sixty people, which composed of not only Sciences Po students, but local citizens of Menton and surrounding cities. People were able to ask various questions to the panel on the broad topic of women in sports, which facilitated more specific discussions between the panelists and attendees on topics such as the pay gap among professional athletes, the sexualization of women in sports, and the difficulty around being a female athlete in an unsupportive marital, familial, or even an educational environment.

The past decade was a time of substantial growth in the performance and subsequently popularity of female sports. In fact, many female national teams have begun to continuously outperform their male counterparts in the international stage. Yet the wage gap and the underrepresentation of women in sports remain significant. To put it into perspective, Serena Williams, the top ranked tennis player in the United States, is the only woman who made the top 100 highest paid athletes in 2017. Furthermore, women make up merely 18% of board member positions across the 28 International Sports Federations that manage bureaucratic responsibilities and make crucial decisions. Such disparities are reflected on the girls pursuing sports as a future. UN Women reports that on average 49% of girls drop sports by the time they hit puberty. Among these statistics is the apparent lack of equality between male and female athletes, including men and women in the political sphere of sports as well.


Lucie Chataigner and Lisa-Marie Auger, key organisers of the seminar and the co-leaders of BDS, were pleased and moved to see both men and women come and share their thoughts and ideas. When asked about her opinions of the seminar, Lisa-Marie found that ”It was really great to see all these women and men from different backgrounds and generations stand up together for sports equality.” Luci, second year member of the girls rugby team here at Sciences Po, wanted the seminar to not only be informative but be an “enriching debat,” where key issues were discussed. Lucie stated that: “À mon sens, c’est important de prendre conscience de ces difficultés que peuvent ressentir les femmes dans le sport de haut niveau (mais aussi dans d’autres domaines). Nommer le problème sert ensuite à chercher des solutions efficaces et permettre à toutes d’accéder à ces fonctions qui sont restées, pendant trop longtemps, au masculin.”


“In my opinion, it’s important to be conscious of the difficulties that woman may face in higher level sports (but also in other domains). To name the problem then to find suitable solutions and to provide all access to these functions, which have only been for too long, masculin. “


As an athlete at Sciences Po, Lucie also recognizes the small differences among male and female teams. She provided the relevant example of Minicrit, and the issue of how female teams are given only half the field for competition, where the male teams are given a full field. This small but blatant difference indicates the inequality between male and female teams here at Sciences Po. However, Lucie also discussed the similarity between male and female interests and support on athletic teams, and although female teams may be smaller, they still come to win and play exactly as the men do.


¹Perasso, Valeria. “100 Women: Is the Gender Pay Gap in Sport Really Closing?” BBC News, BBC, 23 Oct. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-41685042.

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