Article by Guest Writer Jill Moffatt, Canadian Olympic Athlete
With the Winter Olympics taking place throughout February, I thought I would share what it’s like to be an Olympian during a pandemic, and the how important community support is. Thanks for reading along and joining me on my journey to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games!
March 8 marked International Women’s Day – a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
The IWD 2022 campaign theme for this year is #BreaktheBias. This is calling for a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive, and a world where difference is valued and celebrated. The goal for the #breakthebias campaign is to encourage individuals to break the bias and create a gender equal world.
As an elite athlete this day is extremely important. Women and girls have worked very hard to be accepted and respected in the world of sport. But, we still face old stereotypes and biases around what we can achieve, how we achieve it, and sadly, what we look like when we achieve it. Things have changed, and are changing for the better, but it’s by confronting these issues that we create awareness and spark needed changes.
Being a Woman in Elite Sport
When I joined the senior rowing team after the 2016 Olympics, I entered a sport that was well on its way to meet its gender equity goals. For rowing, there was a change that ensured there are an equal number of events for men and women at the Olympics (for the first time in 2020), and an equal number of events on the World Cup circuit. This echoed my time in the Canadian university rowing system – where men and women were treated equally and had the same opportunity when competing.
As a full-time athlete, I am also paid the same amount as my male teammates. In Canada, top athletes are eligible to receive a modest amount of funding from Sport Canada. It is quite literally, equal pay for equal work. We also all train together on Vancouver Island, share the same coaches, facilities and resources.
This system has come a long way in the last 20 years, and I benefit greatly from the hard work of female athletes that have come before me, such as Marnie McBean and Carol Love.
Old Issues Repackaged
Although things have changed drastically over the last few generations, there are many issues that persist today for women in sport. One of the main issues we are still fighting for is to be treated with respect, dignity, and as people first. Although seemingly obvious for a workplace, these values can be lost in the pursuit of excellence when they are not engrained in the organization and leadership.
Discrimination and bias is not as obvious anymore, but can exist in ways that become easily overlooked. Right now, the sport system has a crisis on its hands: USA gymnastics, artistic swimming, women’s rugby, bobsled skeleton, women’s soccer and many others, have collectively raised their hands about inappropriate treatment within the national training centres. There is a collective movement across the sport spectrum where female athletes are demanding to be treated better.
We may have gotten rid of the overtly sexist and physically abusive leaders and coaches, but as the issues of respect and dignity are bubbling up across sports, it highlights the need for true gender equity. Having equal opportunity fails to offer real equity if we do not have healthy environments. You should be able to train for an Olympic gold medal without jeopardizing your mental and physical health.
My lived experience and research has led me to a couple conclusions that I think can help create a better sport system for women and girls – as well as men and boys.
Right now, there is still a massive gap in coaching and leadership for women in sport. Although the Olympics, and the Canadian Olympic team, almost reached gender equity, only 16% of the 131 Canadian coaches were women at the Tokyo Games. At the grassroot level, it is estimated that only 34% of coaches are women.
I think that closing this gap would bring us closer to true equity in sport, but also provide environments that are safer. Having diversity amongst leadership has been shown to elevate organizations and sets an example for both male and female athletes. I think that encouraging the women in your life to consider coaching, regardless of the level that it’s at, does make a difference and can help bring needed change. It might just be the encouragement they need.
Similar to coaching and leadership issues, there is a massive dropout rate for young girls in sport. I work with the non-profit Fast and Female, which is a Canadian charity on a mission to keep self-identified girls aged 8-14 healthy and active in sports.
By age sixteen 1 out of 3 girls who played sports drop out, versus 1 out of 10 boys the same age. And covid made this worse – 1 in 4 girls are not committed to returning to sport after the pandemic, which means we could see 350,000 girls sitting on the sidelines.
Fast and Female offers a couple solutions to this. One of them is to help create social belonging to girls feel that they belong. By creating positive and inclusive team cultures, girls will feel social acceptance to stay engaged in sports. Another, which goes hand in hand with more female leadership and coaching, is by promoting female role models.
By celebrating role models with the community, and those across the country and globe, young girls can have women to look up to. That’s why I am so thankful to have the support of Big Wheel Burger and the platform to share my stories. If I can impact one young girl through my presence or work with Fast and Female, I can directly influence the future for women and girls in sport.
One very exciting movement is that people are now paying attention to women in sport. Christine Sinclair, Marie-Philip Poulin, Leylah Fernandez, and Penny Oleksiak are all women who have become household names in the last few years. By elevating these women and showing businesses that supporting female athletes is financially beneficial, we can influence young women and girls across Canada to stay in sport and reap the rewards of being active and building inner confidence.
Being an elite female athlete in Canada is a privilege and comes with responsibility to help create a better environment for generations to come. I am inspired by my fearless teammates daily, and the collective willpower that we share to support and uplift one another. I am encouraged that we can accomplish our Olympic dreams by working together and I hope we can inspire young girls and boys to follow their dreams – whatever they may be.
Until next month,
About The Author
My name is Jill Moffatt and I am an Olympic rower living in Victoria, B.C. Big Wheel Burger is supporting me on my path to the Olympics and in exchange I’ll be sharing parts of that journey with you! Follow along each month for behind the scenes stories and other things outside of rowing that I am passionate about.