Everyone who attended this year’s Swish-a-thon finals will agree that it was dramatic, to say the least. In the boys’ division, the final game was played between teams from grades 10 and 11. When the game started, every single row on the bleachers was packed with students and staff, with no space to move. The atmosphere was tense, and there was excitement in the air. The game, however, ended with teenage boys throwing punches at walls and screeching swear words.
Just before this game, was the girls’ finals. The audience present for this game was much smaller than the boys’ finals, or even the boys’ semifinals, held right before the game.
Mr. Steve Luukkonen, girls’ basketball coach, could not stand the sight of a bored-looking audience, many of whom were glued to their phone screens, and showed no support during the game. Out of frustration, he yelled at students on the bleachers asking them to show respect; and to some extent, it worked. There were now occasional cheers by students whose friends were on the court.
Later, during the closing ceremony, which was right after the ever-so-enthralling boys’ game, most people were distracted by the incident during the game and did not think to applaud the girls who had just won.
The effort and hard work put in by the girls’ teams were completely ignored, and to some extent, even overshadowed, by the boys’ games.
I am in no way trying to criticize any of the boys’ teams, because they cannot be blamed for attracting more support and enthusiasm. I believe that we, as a community, are to be blamed.
We are living up to an age-old global trend in the international sporting world. Sexism in sports, by no stretch of the imagination, is a recent phenomenon. It is something that every single historical and contemporary female athlete has lived through.
Women in sports always get less recognition than their male counterparts. They work just as hard, only to face discrimination despite their best efforts. In every single professionally played sport in the world, female athletes have much smaller fanbases than their male counterparts. The root of this problem is that spending on women’s sports is a minuscule percentage of all sports spending. According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota, professional women athletes get a mere 4 percent of all sports media coverage in the United States.
This gap exists solely because of society’s unwillingness to recognize a woman’s talent the way they recognize a man’s. For instance, women’s hockey was not recognised as a professional sport anywhere in North America until 2015. Cricket, the most renowned sport in India, is completely dominated by men. While male cricket players enjoy the status of celebrities in the country, their female counterparts go completely unnoticed. Somehow, women’s sports have failed to excite our collective imaginations.
Time and again, many female athletes have raised their voices, but almost always, they have been shot down. Women’s sports have often been rejected and labeled as uninteresting or less competitive. But the fact is that we, as a society, have failed to encourage equality in sports. We fail to give young girls the opportunity to develop their skills, even if they have the talent and may display a better spirit of sportsmanship.
When I spoke with Mr. Luukkonnen, he pointed out how during his 10-year career at Woodstock, there have been numerous incidents like this one. This was definitely not a one-time thing. It is a trend. I asked him how discrimination on the court affects players. “Sadly, (and this is a testament to the girls’ mental strength), they’re used to it by now, and so it does not factor in as much,” he said.
I, just like Mr. Luukkonnen, believe that we need to radically rethink our actions and treatment of women in sports —both as consumers and producers of sports.
We need to find a way to encourage and support women the way we support men. Whether it’s professional sports or a school sporting event, women need to get the recognition they deserve. We need to step up and undo the wrongs of the generations before us and reject the culture of sexism that has existed in sports for far too long.
Janvi Poddar is the Editor-in-Chief of The Woodstocker
Featured image created by Aadya Aryal and Kahini Patel