Sport provides a gathering place for those seeking common ground.
In many parts of the world, women do not have equal access to sports. Yet there is clear evidence that participation on the playing field correlates with sizeable gains off it.
According to research by Betsey Stevenson, former Chief Economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, there are large wage gains for those who play high school sports. In a wide-ranging study, she found that women who had been athletes in high school earned more when they entered the workforce.
The leadership and teamwork skills learned through sports participation can lead to more women pursuing traditionally “male” occupations.
“Athletic participation might be associated with better outcomes in later life either because students who choose athletics have skills that are valued by the market or because athletics fosters the development of such skills,” Stevenson writes.
“These attributes may include the ability to communicate, the ability to work well with others, competitiveness, assertiveness, and discipline.”
One of the landmark pieces of legislation in sports is the US's Title IX, enacted in 1972. Applying civil rights law to education, Title IX:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The most visible and the most controversial manifestation of Title IX has been the success of girls and women in sports.
Opposition to opening up the field of play for women came from the male-dominated sporting establishment. Those who were not supportive of the law argued that accommodating women in sport would bankrupt athletic departments and that funding sports for women would be a waste of resources.
Four decades after the passage of Title IX, research affirms that providing sport in combination with educational opportunities has reaped huge benefits.
Women and girls who participate in sports are less likely to take drugs, be overweight, suffer from depression and diabetes, engage in abusive relationships or have unwanted pregnancies. They are more likely to graduate from high school, earn postgraduate degrees and earn more money.
Before Title IX, many schools refused to admit women or enforced strict limits. Since the passage of the law, however, advancements have been notable:
- In 1994, women received 38% of medical degrees, compared with 9% in 1972
- In 1994, women earned 43% of law degrees, compared with 7% in 1972
- In 1994, 44% of all doctoral degrees to US citizens went to women, up from 25% in 1977
Title IX saw many firsts, and there is no question that its beneficiaries drive gender equity in sports. For the first time in the history of the modern Olympics, all countries competing in the 2012 Games will include women in their respective delegations.
For the first time in history, all sports on the Olympic program will offer disciplines to women. In addition, in yet another first, Saudi Arabia's delegation to the 2012 Games will include women.
Sport provides a gathering place for those seeking common ground. The 2012 Games bring together a unique assembly of people from the disparate worlds of politics, business, media and sport.
What they have in common is aspiration, achievement and the drama of the human spirit. In this unique arena, everyone is equal.
"We want to find ways to get more women and girls on the field, the court, the track, in the pool, the mat, wherever their interests and talents take them so that they can discover their strengths, develop their skills, experience that special satisfaction that sports can bring, win or lose. And we believe in the positive effects that can flow out of that experience for girls and women across their lifetimes and, by extension, for their families and communities."
Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State announcing the
Global Sports Mentoring Program, 21 June 2012