Britain’s involvement in the First World War enabled women to gain more confidence and to challenge the traditional role of women in society, because for the first time they were allowed to take on what had been traditional male roles (although many women were dismissed from their war-time jobs after the war). Although Britain in the pre-war era had been the most influential country within sports, by the 1920’s America had started to influence globally, the participation in sports, particularly among women. In 1923 (when Wembley stadium was first opened) many British sports e.g. rugby league and American sports (for example ice hockey) were on the Wembley programme.
Despite the fact that the majority of the participation was geared towards males, women competed in swimming, diving, table tennis and tennis. Perhaps most surprisingly there were open competitions between men and women between speedway riders. Women’s participation in sport had now started to encourage a more ‘provocative’ use of the body, which was very different from the more rigid use of the body institutionalised in schools and clubs. Sportswomen were achieving more within sports and were being celebrated for. For instance in 1933, Gwen Neligan became the first woman to win the Fencing Foil world title, and Peggy Scriven became the first Briton to woman to win the French Tennis Championship.
However although women were making long strides in the battle for equality, resistance still occurred. Increasingly more sporting competitions for women took place, sportswomen were still expected to keep within certain boundaries of behaviour. Any woman who did not was strictly dealt with. For example, during the British Ladies Golf Championship in 1933, a competitor (Gloria Minoprio) wore a dark blue tight sweater with trousers instead of the stipulated skirt and sleeved blouse.
Her appearance attracted many complaints from the spectators and numerous newspapers from the time as well as the Ladies Golf Union. Her outfit was deemed improper and rebellious – the tight sweater was seen to be too provocative whilst trousers were seen to be unsuitable for men. The fact that it may have been more comfortable to play in trousers was never taken in to consideration.
The general persistence of women helped to facilitate the general growth of two particular sports – cricket and netball. In 1926 the Women’s Cricket Association (WCA) was created. It was created to arrange fixtures and tours within the various female cricket clubs around the country. After just one year 10 clubs, 28 schools had affiliated to the WCA. In 1929 the first county match was organised and by 1938 20 county associations were established. Female cricket received more opposition as the game became more popular – it was rarely taken seriously because traditionally it had been a ‘mans game’.
Netball however received hardly opposition at all specifically because it was created by female students in rejection of basketball (which was deemed too physical for women). It was rarely played by men so it was immediately perceived as a women’s sport. It soon became the most popular team game among the working classes, spreading from England, to other parts of Europe. It became particularly popular in the USA, Canada, South Africa, India and New Zealand, and during the 1930’s the West Indies. The All-England Netball Association (ANEA) was set up in 1926, which was soon followed by similar organisations in other countries, although there were no standard international rules at the time.
During the inter-war years, women made considerable progress within their own section of sport, however when they needed the same facilities and equipment as men, they were still discriminated against, because men monopolised the main facilities and held controlling and decision making positions. For example at universities with strong rowing backgrounds (such as Oxford and Cambridge), female rowers had fewer boats, far less river time and poor coaching and finance in comparison to their male counterparts. They were often barred from competitions because it was thought of as being ‘much too unladylike’
In spite of the set backs women continued to strive towards high achievements, for example in 1948 Nilla de Wharton Burr became the only woman to win the World Individual Archery Title twice, in 1952 Jeannette Altwegg won the Olympic Figure Skating title and in 1964 Mary Rand won the Olympic Gold for Long Jump (this was the first ever gold medal for British women’s athletics). Women At The ‘Top’ Although women had made significant progress in their fight for equality across all sports, the biggest limiting factor to their progress was the lack of representation they had on decision-making bodies such as the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) – these are in control of Olympic sports within individual countries, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). During the 1980’s, some women managed to gain top management level roles, however they made little impact.
For instance in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, there were 168 male events as opposed to 73 female events and 15 mixed events. At the summer Olympics in 1988 there were 26 sports and 165 events for men compared with only 22 sports and 83 events for women. Even in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona women made up only 40% of the total number of competitors. Despite the fact that new sports for added to the programme (judo, canoe slalom and windsurfing) men’s events still outnumbered the number available for women – there were 28 sports and 171 events available for men in comparison to 24 sports and 98 events available for women.
Between 1884 and 1981 there were no women members of the IOC, the only way women could become members was for men to campaign on their behalf – however this was rare became most of the members were strongly opposed to female membership. It was not until 1980 (when Juan Samaranch became president) that two women were co-opted as members. Samaranch actively incorporated women in to the IOC by inviting them to serve on numerous IOC commissions. However male dominance sill continued, in 1993 out of a total of 93, only 7 members were female.
Quotas of the overall percentage of women within the IOC and NOC were set that were expected to be achieved in 2000 and 2005. The IOC and all NOCs were required to achieve at least 10% membership rates of women on the executive boards by 2000 which was then to rise to 20% by 2005. Currently the first target has been achieved (although this may be due to the fact that some NOCs exceeded the target whilst others fell short). Currently Britain has 15% of its membership in the NOC allocated to women.
The fight for equality in managerial roles for women had not occurred only in international bodies. In Britain currently, there is a severe imbalance in the number of managerial positions held by women. This is often due to many factors: 1. The nature of women’s careers – they often take breaks for family or maternity reasons. Many coaching qualifications do not take this need in to consideration. 2. Women are perceived to have less power of control.
The general notion is that women will not be taken as seriously in roles that require commands, in comparison to men (e.g. the chairing of meetings). 3. Women are perceived to be more suited to caring positions (e.g. refreshments, or caring for athletes with disabilities).