It’s time for equal treatment of female athletes and their sports

I joined McGill Varsity Artistic Swimming (AS) in 2018 after 11 years of practicing the sport on a national and international level. McGill AS’s 2018-19 season was one of the most successful in the team’s history. We won Nationals after an undefeated season and brought home the coveted Geraldine Dubrule Trophy, awarded to the school with the highest number of points at the end of each season. In light of these accomplishments, we were thrilled to be nominated for the Team of the Year Award at the 2019 Varsity Gala. 

To our surprise, we lost the award to another team. After more than a decade in artistic swimming, I am used to my sport not being recognized as a “real sport.” What was most disappointing, however, was to lose this award to a men’s team whose success we undoubtedly matched on paper, especially in light of the efforts McGill Athletics claims to be making to better support their women’s teams. It is time for these words to become concrete actions. 

The women I swam with during this season are strong, smart, and driven. They balance studying in demanding programs with practices finishing as late as 10:30 p.m. multiple times per week. The coaches who run McGill AS volunteer their time to train the athletes on top of their full-time jobs outside of the university. Our head coach Dr. Lindsay Duncan, is an associate professor and researcher in McGill’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education and has been managing the team for six consecutive years on a volunteer basis. Together, these women make McGill AS a true leader within McGill’s athletic community. They are the reason McGill Artistic Swimming has won 15 National Championships in the last 17 seasons. 

“After more than a decade in artistic swimming, I am used to my sport not being recognized as a “real sport.””

As McGill Athletics and Recreation Executive Director Marc Gélinas highlighted that the university is taking steps to level the playing field for its female athletes in his opening remarks at the 2019 Varsity Gala. In September of 2018, thanks to a generous donation by alumni Sheryl and David Kerr, McGill Athletics launched the Kerr Family Women in Sport Program with the goal of supporting female student-athletes and increasing the number of full-time female coaches. After hiring two female assistant coaches and­­ appointing a women’s sports advocate as a steward to the new program, McGill Athletics wants to know what services female athletes would benefit from and how it can better support them in their athletic pursuits. 

As a varsity athlete in an all-female sport, I offer a simple answer: Begin by supporting, promoting, and most of all recognizing traditionally women’s sports in the same way they do sports such as baseball, hockey, and football. The stronger each individual team is, the stronger we are together as athletes representing our university. Therefore, it only makes sense to provide the necessary funding to appropriately compensate coaches across all teams, give all sports the same visibility on McGill Athletics’ social media, and level the financial cost of being a varsity athlete for those competing in less well-known sports. This new school year is the ideal time to move forward with these concrete actions and bring real change within its varsity teams. I commend McGill Athletics for actively searching for ways to achieve equality for their female athletes. As a way to substantiate these efforts, I ask the committee overseeing the attribution of the annual Varsity Awards to commit to celebrating the success of under-recognized sports, particularly all-female ones. I invite them to rise to the challenge of honouring female teams and coaches who quietly but consistently collect national titles over the span of nearly two decades, despite being next to unknown in the McGill community. Only by making this commitment will McGill Athletics truly be able to offer equal opportunity for its strong women to proudly wear its colours. 

 

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