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Triumph of Women and Sport

“The problem with the Olympics and the World Cup is that those phases come and go,” says Scott. “It’s the sizzle, a moment in time.”

Scott notes that with the recent adoption of rugby as an Olympic sport, some underdeveloped countries are scrambling to use limited resources to create women’s rugby teams, which may or may not have lasting impact. Even successful programs, such as the Brazilian women’s national soccer team that finished second in both the last Women’s World Cup and the 2008 Olympics, struggles to maintain funding and relevance outside of the quadrennial cycles.

“To shift the culture in a positive way, you want sustainability,” Scott says. “That’s why the Olympic movement should put their money into schools and clubs.”

The top-down approach to funding and program development can be challenging.

“It can be philosophically problematic,” says Sarah Murray, communications director for Women Win. “Those in charge can be farthest removed from girls on the ground. Culturally, they’re out of sync.”

A general consensus is that grassroots efforts that produce a groundswell of results and community awareness—a model more emblematic in developing nations—are the most effective path to long-term change. Such programs usually don’t
exclusively focus on teaching sports-specific skills, but use sports as a catalyst for activity, health, and community building.

Deport-es Para Compartir introduces elementary school children in Mexico to games and sports through mixed gender teams. Right to Play supports girls programs in 20 countries, including basketball in Mali, soccer in Liberia, and volleyball in Pakistan. Soccer Without Borders has created an institute in Granada, Nicaragua, to use soccer as a tool for positive influence.

“As we develop our goals, we want to be culturally appropriate,” says Mary McVeigh, the executive director of Soccer Without Borders. “We don’t want to implant American values.”

Like Women Win and other organizations Soccer Without Borders tries to influence both ends of the spectrum. “We want to be bottom-up, top-down, and outside-in,” McVeigh says. “Local grassroots programs show the most efficiency. But once the bottom-up approach is shown to work, it’s important to get those at the top involved.”

The challenge lies in sustaining these embers of change. Barriers must be broken. The first step is navigating a path where sports can be recognized as more than just a privilege, but part of the basic necessities of life. That recognition already exists for many girls in developed nations, where parents are more likely to not only support but encourage girls to participate in sports. But in developing nations, oftentimes girls must fight for their right to play. Sports are viewed as a luxury, particularly for females. They are shut out of the field by lack of resources, and are forced to defy social and cultural rules that tell them “No.”

“I was a bit naïve,” says Ayub, who has—since her initial foray into the soccer world— seen women’s soccer in Afghanistan grow substantially. “I grew up in the US watching women’s soccer and I saw it as a gender-neutral sport. But it turned out to be the most male-dominated sport. The girls were challenging barriers on and off the field. Certainly it took an emotional toll.”

Girls in Muslim countries often can’t participate in sports in open areas, where men might see them. They are constricted by what they must wear. In many areas, finding a safe environment for play is a challenge. Around the world, families may feel threatened by seeing their daughters step out of traditional women’s roles.

“They have duties in their households, or are working outside the household,” McVeigh says. “You can’t tell the parents that sports are more valuable than bringing home money. That’s why you have to involve local community members.” . . .


Mercy Kareithi's picture

Let's talk about sports

Great piece Ann, great strides in women empowerment through radical means. Quoting Albert Einstein, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them", so way to go soccer, basketball, squash, tennis, name it all.

Soccer has been used in kenya to make peace especially after the PEV-Post election violence in 2008. Some TV programmes have used soccer as the story line. One such programme was 'THE TEAM' that showed how members of a new Kenyan football club learnt to deal with their tribal, ethnic, social and economic divisions.

Viva sports...on y va sweaty revolution!!!

I'm more than a bit shocked to note that you've run, with this article on women being triumphant in sport, a photograph taken by a very talented friend of mine -- without crediting her! For a website with such obvious high intentions this is certainly a low action. Karma is a real bitch, and I expect she'll bite you hard for this if it's not corrected pronto.

I've been on the side of women for 64 years minus one day, at this particular point in my life, and want you to know I registered with World Pulse TM (!) just to give you a piece of my mind. That said, if you wish to redeem yourself and acknowledge my friend's talent as well as appropriating it for your worthy cause, get back to me and I'll remind you who she is. You've got my e-mail address.

Corine Milano's picture

Cookie in New Jersey, Thank

Cookie in New Jersey,

Thank you for your concern about Emily Anne Epstein's photo. It is always our policy to give due credit and compensation to the wonderful photographers who make World Pulse Magazine's aesthetic possible, and we regret that a misunderstanding has lead to this situation. We are in touch with your friend and working on making it right.


Corine Milano
Managing Editor
World Pulse Magazine

Tshego Jeremiah's picture

Women and Sport

It is with great pride and joy that I come across this page, I come from a small country in Africa called Botswana. Our population is just over 2million, I work for a sports organisation where we encourage women in sports, one of our projects is called Women and Sports in Botswana. Recently Botswana won the bid to host the world international conference on women and sport in 2018, the past recent one was in Helsinki Finland, where 800 delegates from across the globe attended. The International Working Group on women and sport is an independent body which aims to promote awareness of girls and women sport, to seek inclusion of issues to women and sport on the agendas of major international conferences, to support national, regional and international networks for women and sport development amongst others. I am part of the Local organising Committee for this amazing conference to be held in our home country in 2018, events will be held leading to the conference, so anyone interested in being a part of this initiative, please log on to our website on, and also go into our face book page, international working group on women and sport, and please like the page. Hope to unite women in sport across the continent and the rest of the world.

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