Today women are competing in professional and amateur sport on an unprecedented level. The changing attitudes within society towards women in general have allowed women’s sports to become more popular and respected amongst both the general public and sporting commentators. As women became more able to exercise their rights within society, the inequalities present in sports became more apparent and began to be challenged by women.
At the original Olympic games in ancient Greece, women were not permitted to compete in the events and were not even allowed to watch the games take place. In the modern era of Olympic sport female participation has steadily grown as the Olympics developed during the 20th century. Women were not allowed to participate in the first modern games in 1896, but were allowed to compete in a small selection of sports from the Paris games of 1900 onwards. As female interest and participation in various sports increased women began to represent their countries at the Olympics in greater numbers. In today’s games women compete in virtually all the events that men do and compete professionally in a variety of sports.
In 1972 a law was enacted in the United States that required all educational institutions to provide equal amounts of funding for male and female sport programs, enabling women to benefit from equal athletic opportunities. Because of this piece of legislation the American collegiate system in particular has gone on to produce some of the world’s best female athletes, with all of the America’s Olympic athletes being products of the college system. Although some have criticised the law for discriminating against males, there is no doubt that the law has been of great benefit to the American sporting system that has arguably produced more world-class athletes and sportswomen than countries such as Britain where similar laws are not in place.
In the UK women’s football is often overshadowed by its male equivalent, which still dominates the national consciousness. Over the past 30 years there have been great improvements in the women’s game, with some clubs turning professional and television coverage of women’s tournaments giving the game greater publicity. At the grass roots level, football has become very popular amongst girls with more schools running girls’ football teams. On an international level the sport is increasingly competitive, with European nations such as Germany consistently challenging the United States and Brazil for supremacy. However many people are still prejudiced towards the women’s game, comparing it directly to the men’s game and criticising it for a lack of pace and physical competition. Despite what the critics may say, the women’s game is still developing and is proving to be a success on many levels.
Tennis is perhaps the most high profile sport where women and men receive more equal amounts of attention from fans and the media. The legacy of players such as Billie Jean King and the success of the Williams sisters has given women’s tennis a distinct identity allowing the game to hold its own alongside the power of the men’s game. However recent changes to the amount of prize money women receive at Wimbledon show how progress is still being made to achieve equality in sport for women.