The Forbes list of the 100 best paid athletes lists only three women: Maria Sharapova at #34, Li Na at #41, and Serena Williams at #55. A British audience of 20 million people tuned in to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup, compared to an estimated reach of 5.9 million people for the entire duration of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. While the British men’s rugby team consist of entirely professional players (who have each been promised £15000 per test match for the 2015 World Cup) the women’s rugby team features a plumber, vet and lifeguard among other professions. It seems pretty clear that on an international scale, men’s sports dominate in terms of both funding and public interest.
For many, the Lancaster University campus is its own separate little bubble in most respects, but what about when it comes to sport? SCAN asked female sports teams for their opinions on the gender differences that exist in sport, and whether they thought they applied to Lancaster.
Women’s Volleyball: “Internationally, men’s sports teams are definitely getting a lot more attention and then as a result a lot more support and funding than the women’s sports teams. However, in our opinion women’s team sports are as exciting as men’s team sport. At Lancaster, the men’s and women’s volleyball team gets equal support and funding from LUSU which we really appreciate. I think that often men are coming to our games because some say volleyball players look sexy and not because of our performance. In beach volleyball it is even worse. If spectators come to the men’s games the focus is clearly on the performance and not on the looks of the players.”
Squash: “Internationally, the lack of attention towards women in sport is really sad. The amount of time and effort that they put into training is the same as their male counterparts; I really hope this changes as I believe they deserve equal attention and praise. In our squash society I am happy to say that we don’t go have a situation where men are given more importance when it comes to training or funding. We work and play as a society. At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of people who love and respect the sport.”
Fencing: “For fencing, neither men nor women are given much attention on the international stage and this is particularly true in Britain. It is clear that people still focus on the men’s side of things because it is deemed ‘more exciting’, but I don’t think for fencing the difference between the two is as obvious as in other sports. At Lancaster, the Fencing Club is joint – i.e. we don’t have a Women’s Fencing Club separate from the men; we receive the same resources as the men’s team. We do, however, tend to give the men’s team priority with coaching because they are in a much higher league than us and there are fewer women. We’re trying to address that balance slightly to ensure the women’s team receive, in particular, individual lessons when we need them.
“In fencing, it is a given that women fence differently to men. For instance, men are going to be naturally more aggressive and faster than women, but women tend to be more patient and so fence in a different way. However, in terms of looks and size, as a fencer you are covered from head to toe in equipment so can’t really be seen, which means it’s not a massive problem piste side. I think there is a stereotypical image of fencing as a ‘geeky’ sport, just people sword fighting and trying to emulate movie action and this is especially true of Britain, more so than in other countries. This image particularly puts off women from joining the sport. It’s also seen as quite a masculine sport which also puts off a lot of women from taking part.
“But now, fencers are definitely trying to combat that image. There are cases of international female fencers doing magazine shoots for instance, to prove that female fencers are still feminine and to raise their international public profile. This is something we’re also trying to combat at the University club, by emphasising that fencing is a proper sport, that improves your fitness and requires a certain amount of training, as well as having a strong women’s team and large close-knit group of girls at the club. This seems to be in contrast to other sports where women tend to want to be seen as more masculine to prove they are good at the sport. In fencing it’s the opposite. International female fencers want to prove that they are feminine in a very masculine environment.”
Korfball: “There’s a stigma that means people think women’s sport is boring, which just means people miss out on watching good sport. As korfball is a mixed sex sport, playing means we constantly get the chance to compare and contrast male and female players. Luckily for us korfball is such an equal sport. Women get praised for their power, technical skills and tactics just as much as the male players. A lot of people think that the girls in korfball teams are the game changers.”
Hockey: “It’s disappointing that women don’t receive as much attention in regards to international sports, as both men and women train equally as hard and both have to perform under immense pressure, yet only the men seem to gain more recognition. The media should cover women’s sport more with advertising and featuring them more on sport channels which currently heavily weigh on the male side. At Lancaster the men seem to get a little more support (but that could just be because they stretch their budget more).
“Men’s hockey has focus on speed and strength, whereas for women as the game is slower people tend to focus more on the tackles and the interaction. That said, it would be a lie to say spectators didn’t sometimes focus on our skirts. Aside from those things I think, as hockey is, there are aspects that gain equal focus for both male and female games.”