It's Different for Girls

Media Coverage for Women's Sport

Why are women’s sports less popular than men’s?

0006392f-642The Buenos Aires Herald reports:

The real Olympic heroes are, from my point of view, the adult males. The Olympic Games are reserved for men. Women’s role must be played behind the scene; especially to crown the winners,” founder of the modern Olympics Pierre de Coubertin said in 1925.

Sportswomen made a long evolution in the Olympic history from their first participation in 1928 in gymnastics and athletics to London 2012, where 46 per cent of the athletes were women (4,850 out of 10,540). Four per cent more women than in Beijing 2008.

But, apart from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision of encouraging women in the practice of sports, the activity remains less popular. The birth of sports movement was in charge of men, and for men, in the late 19th century, when women were particularly invisible in the public scene and it is still difficult to change the word “men” for “all”. Why? Here you have five arguments to make this controversy lighter.


Sports’ origins were linked to war. Sportsmen are supposed to act like soldiers. An activity not related with women in the 19th century. This is why women getting into sports and how they were accepted as sportswomen in their own right can be compared to the way women’s status in society has evolved though this took a longer time.

Things are changing but women’s sport is less spread through the world than men’s and its history is clearly shorter.

All 204 countries participating in London 2012 had women in their rosters for the first time in the Olympic history. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei were the last countries in including women. The United States even presented more women than men for the first time (269 out of 530 participants).

The Argentine delegation had 137 athletes, who participated in 21 sports. It was made up of 96 men (70 percent) and 41 women (30 percent).


Women began to replace men in some working position after the World War I but this change was slower in sports. Sportsmen fight for the victory and must be rude in that purpose. The idea of “dying sports” came from Ancient Greece, where fights ended with the death of a contender. Nowadays, nobody expects a real death but a “fake death” in which an athlete does his best to win — but loses.

How can you be rude and charming at the same time? Coubertin said women “will always be imperfect doubles” as they are unable to offer a proper spectacle without losing their charm and health. Women are supposed to be fragile. It takes a long time to get rid of the social categories related with the gender and sports. This cultural barrier obliged women to show themselves as charming and powerful, two characteristics which seem to be incompatible with each other. An easier aim in those sports less related with men like skating or gymnastics, but a big challenge in most popular sports among men, like soccer.

If only certain movements are considered appropriate for a woman’s body, some sports are socially banned for them. Things are changing. Women’s soccer was introduced in the Olympic Games in Atlanta 1996 and women’s rugby sevens tournament will be held for the first time in Rio de Janeiro 2016. Women outdid themselves to be considered real athletes but, what about the spectators? Do they like to see women playing such a rough sport like rugby?


Injuries are the main reason for not backing women’s participation in certain sports. Even though medical studies said that women and men have the same possibilities of getting injured, it is difficult to put in doubt the idea of associating ability with injury. In certain sports, our perception of risk is inversely proportional to the skill we have for it. Furthermore, it seems that violence, which is still a central component in the sports practiced by men, does not express itself in a satisfying way in women’s sports. French tennis player Gilles Simon said last year in Wimbledon that women must receive less money than men because women’s tennis in less attractive than men’s arguing that it is a business.

“The equality in salaries isn’t something that works in sports. Men’s tennis remains more attractive than women’s tennis at the moment,” he said.

Maria Sharapova’s answer was that “more people watch my matches than his”. Simon later said that. “Maria is more famous than me. She deserves more money than me. That is not the problem. It’s not about me. Just check the price of the tickets for the finals here (in Wimbledon, the price for men’s decider tickets was 120 pounds and 105 pounds for women’s).” A discussion that may be extrapolated to other sports.


Taking the decision to become a mother may be a tougher issue for sportswomen. The competition schedule and the pressure of the sponsors may be issues to be taken into account before getting pregnant. Eleven sportswomen competing at the London Olympics for the United States have children; on the opposite side, 53 were fathers. It is much easier for them. Others, like Argentina field hockey goalkeeper Belén Succi, watched the Games on television while his baby was growing in her womb.

It is also difficult to return to competition after childbirth. Tennis players as Kim Clijsters and Lindsay Davenport did it but it made another difference from other women. Of course, sportswomen did not receive any income during pregnancy.

To read the rest of this article click here.

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This entry was posted on June 22, 2013 by in Inequality.
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