SHELLY-ANN Fraser-Pryce's historic triumph in the 100-metre finals at the World Championships in Doha last week, after leaving the track to birth a child two years ago, has everyone taking a closer look at women in sports and how they often have to choose between their careers and their femininity.
Make no mistake — women have never been seen as equal to men in sports, and in many instances they still aren't. Call it sportsmanship if you will, but like many other ceilings that are being slowly shattered in other areas, women have had to fight hard for a spot on the courts, tracks, fields, pools, and tables in sports. In the days of Billie Jean King and Kathrine Switzer, the fight was for the bare minimum — the right to compete professionally, and to have proper changing and shower facilities. Some even began the fight to earn similar wages to their male counterparts
But fast forward to the new millennium, and the jury is still out on whether women in sports deserve equal pay. The reason offered for this is that women's sporting events don't attract enough sponsorship for them to receive an equal payout as their male counterparts, despite having to do the same amount of training, and having similar responsibilities and expenses as male athletes. Along with trying to balance the pay cheque, women have had to stand up in recent times for maternity rights. These are a few of our modern-day game changers.
Twelve-time World Championships gold medallist Allyson Felix decided at the age of 32 that she wanted to do more than win medals. She wanted to become a mother. This led to her ultimate separation from her sponsor company, Nike, after she gave birth and her contract was amended. She disclosed to the New York Times that, “I felt pressure to return to form as soon as possible after the birth of my daughter in November 2018, even though I ultimately had to undergo an emergency C-section at 32 weeks because of severe pre-eclampsia that threatened the lives of me and my baby. Despite all my victories, Nike wanted to pay me 70 per cent less than before.”
Along with other athletes like Alysia Montaño and Phoebe Wright, Felix spoke out against their former sponsor earlier this year, and Nike has since come forward with changes to its policy.
Serena and Venus Williams
Tennis champion sisters Serena and Venus Williams have not only championed the cause of women in sports, but particularly black women. Venus in 2007 pressured Wimbledon to award equal pay to women's tennis champions as men, to which the organisation bowed. Serena has more recently spoken up against the discrimination she has faced as a black woman in tennis, such as being tested more often than other players, being called out for showing too much emotion during games, her body being policed for how toned it is, the clothes she wears, and how she wears her hair.
“I think my mom instilled in us to be confident women, to really believe in ourselves, to be proud of our heritage, our hair, and our bodies. That was something that was really important for her to teach us,” she told Allure.
Norwegian professional footballer Ada Hegerberg became the first to ever win a women's Ballon d'Or in 2018 — the most coveted individual award in the sport, which had previously been reserved for men. Despite being the best female footballer in the world, Hegerberg refused to represent her country in international competitions, including this year's FIFA Women's World Cup, as a stance against the poor treatment of women footballers.
The Sunshine Girls
Jamaica's national netball team, the Sunshine Girls, have constantly displayed tremendous strength and resilience in consistently being one of the highest globally-ranked Jamaican sports teams, despite being woefully underfunded. Earlier this year the team sought crowdfunding to attend the Netball World Cup in England, after which a handful of sponsors came to their aid. Despite a lack of funding for development of the sport over the years, the team has consistently been among the top five world teams.
The Reggae Girlz
The Jamaica national football team this year made history by becoming the first women's team from the region to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. Shortly after, they again made international headlines when they refused to play for the country until they were paid the money owed to them for their World Cup performance.
“This is about change; change in the way women football is viewed, especially in Jamaica. We deserve more and they can do better. For this reason I, along with my teammates, won't be participating in any future tournaments until being paid,” forward Khadija Shaw told the BBC.