Evening the playing field: women’s sport as a vehicle for human rights

  • Marlaina LemmonEmail author


Since the days of the first Olympics in Ancient Greece, women have been barred entry into sports and have fought for their place on the field. That fight continues throughout the world today, with varying levels of success. With the right to equal opportunity in sports comes equal opportunity in other human rights, and women are demanding access to both. This paper will explore the correlation between women’s equal opportunity in sporting events and other human rights. First, this paper will examine the history of women’s rights in sports, including legislation around the world either denying or guaranteeing equal access. Second, this paper will analyze the link between women’s participation in athletics and other human rights, focusing on equal pay, bodily autonomy, and education. Finally, this paper will discuss the hurdles modern women are facing in their fight for equality both on and off the field, including social perception, classism, and objectification.


Women's sport Human rights International treaties CEDAW 



  1. Adamcyzk A (2017) U.S. women’s soccer team just scored a huge victory. 5 Apr 2017.
  2. Beyoncé (2011) Who run the world (girls) on 4, [CD]. MSR studiosGoogle Scholar
  3. Brace-Govan J (2004) Weighty matters: control of women’s access to physical strength. Sociol Rev 52(4):503–531CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bradley P (2004) Mass media and the shaping of American feminism, 1963–1975. University Press of Mississippi, JacksonGoogle Scholar
  5. Brandt WE (1931) Girl pitcher fans Ruth and Gehrig. New York Times, 3 Apr 1931.
  6. Brentwood v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association 531 US 288 (2001)Google Scholar
  7. Brown KJ, Connolly C (2010) The role of law in promoting women in elite athletics: an examination of four nations. Int Rev Sociol Sport 45(1):3–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bruce T (2016) New rules for new times: sportswomen and media representation in the third wave. Sex Roles 74:361–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burack E (2016) Why are women still not allowed to race in the tour de France? Marie Claire, 24 July 2016.
  10. Burfoot Amby (2007) The history of the Marathon: 1976-present. Sports Med 37:284–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carpentier F, Lefevre J-P (2006) The modern olympic movement, women’s sport and the social order during the inter-war period. Int J Hist Sport 23(7):1112–1127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Carr S (2014) Before a league of their own. National Baseball Hall of Fame. Accessed 9 July 2018
  13. Case MA (2017) Heterosexuality as a factor in the long history of women’s sports. Law Contemp Probs 80:25Google Scholar
  14. Chalabaev A et al (2013) The influence of sex stereotypes and gender roles on participation and performance in sport and exercise: review and future directions. Psychol Sport Exerc 14:136–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crawford D, Haneline A (2018) Follow IndyStar’s investigation of USA Gymnastics and Larry Nassar from start to finish, Indianapolis, 24 Jan 2018.
  16. Dasgupta S (2016) The female athletes of ancient Greece. The Wire, 21 Aug 2016.
  17. Deitsch R (2015) USA–Japan women’s world cup final shatters American TV record. Sports illustrated, 06 July 2015.
  18. Dement M (2018) Brian Boyle was intimidated following Hilary knight in the NHL skills accuracy competition and for good reason, 31 Jan 2018.
  19. Drinkwater B (ed) (2008) Women in sport: an IOC medical commission publication. John & Riley Sons Inc., HobokenGoogle Scholar
  20. Eaton J (2012) Gender equality in Canadian ice hockey: the legal struggle. Legal Inf Manag 12:121–123Google Scholar
  21. Friedman D, McAdam D (1992) Collective identity and activism: networks, choices, and the life of a social movement. In: Morris AD, Mueller CM (eds) Frontiers in social movement theory. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  22. Futebol Feminino, Museo de futbol. Accessed 4 June 2018
  23. Garcia A (2017) U.S. women’s hockey team will sit out world championships in pay protest. CNN, 16 Mar 2017.
  24. Golden Mark (1998) Sport and society in Ancient Greece. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  25. Golgowski N (2018) After 40-year Ban, Iranian women allowed to watch world cup with men. The Huffington post 21, June 2018.
  26. Greenspan J (2013) When Billie beat bobby. History stories, 20 Sept 2013.
  27. Hall MA (2002) The girl and the game: a history of women’s sport in Canada, 2nd edn. University of Toronto Press, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  28. Hallman K (2012) Women’s 2011 football world cup: the impact of perceived images of women’s soccer and the world cup 2011 on interest in attending matches. Sport Manag Rev 15:33–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hockey Hall of Fame, Timeline: evolution of women’s hockey. Accessed 9 July 2018
  30. Horowitz T (2013) The woman who (maybe) struck out babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Smiths Mag 44(4):31–34Google Scholar
  31. Hyman M (2012) The most expensive game in town: the rising cost of youth sports and the toll on today’s families. Beacon Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  32. Ijeoma OC et al (2013) Education an antidote against early marriage for the girl-child. J Educ Soc Res 3(5):73–78Google Scholar
  33. International Olympic Committee, Key dates in the history of women in the Olympic movement. Accessed 6 Feb 2018
  34. Johnson SE (1994) When women played hardball. Seal Press, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  35. Kendall EN (2015) Female athletes often face the femininity police—especially Serena Williams. The Guardian, 14 July 2015.
  36. Kleinjans KJ et al (2017) Occupational prestige and the gender wage gap. KYKLOS 7(4):565–593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Knijnik J (2013) Visions of gender justice: untested feasibility on the football fields of Brazil. J Sports Soc Issues 37(1):8–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ladd AL (2014) The sports bra, the ACL, and title IX—the game in play. Clin Orthop Relat Res 472:1682Google Scholar
  39. Langone A (2018) Before team USA women’s hockey won olympic gold, they won equality off the ice., 22 Feb 2018.
  40. Lindhorst L (2015) Behind the mask of glory: combating child abuse in Olympic boarding schools. Geo Wash Int’l L Rev 47:353Google Scholar
  41. Lusher A (2018) This is what happens when you try to take away podium girls from sports events in 2018. The Independent, 15 July 2018.
  42. Macur J (2010) At tour de France, women also face grueling bid to make podium. The New York Times 25 July 2010.
  43. Milner AN, Baker EH (2017) Athletic participation and intimate partner violence victimization: investigating sport involvement, self-esteem, and abuse patterns for women and men. J Interpers Violence 32(2):268–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ministry of Education, Education approves the application of physical education program in girls’ schools, 07 Nov 2017.
  45. Muñoz-Bullón F et al (2017) The influence of participation on academic performance among students in higher education. Sport Manag Rev 20:365–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Noland M (2016) What goes into a medal: women’s inclusion and success at the Olympic games. Soc Sci Q 92(2):177–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. O’Reilly J, Cahn SK (2012) Women and sports in the United States: a documentary reader. Northeastern University Press, ‎BostonGoogle Scholar
  48. Olushola JO et al (2013) More than basketball: determining the sport components that lead to long-term benefits for African–American girls. Sport Manag Rev 16:211–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pelak CF (2002) Women’s collective identity formation in sports: a case study from women’s ice hockey. Gender Soc 16:93–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pfister G (2001) Must women play football? Women’s football in Germany, past and present. Football Stud 4(2):46–47Google Scholar
  51. Post-Gazette P (1973) Billie Jean Vet’s Foe tonight. Times News Service, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  52. Prouse C (2015) Harnessing the Hijab: the emergence of the muslim female footballer through international sport governance. Place Cult 22(1):20–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ring J (2013) Invisible women in America’s national pastime…or, “she’s good. It’s history, man”. J Sport Soc Issues 37(1):57–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rishe PJ (2003) A reexamination of how athletic success impacts graduation rates: comparing student athletes to all other undergraduates. Am J Econ Sociol 62(2):407–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Saudi Arabia to allow women into sports stadiums (2017) BBC news, 29 Oct 2017
  56. Sherry E et al (2016) Images of sports women: a review. Sex Roles 74:299–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Skelton J (2018) Tour de France 2018: why is there no women’s equivalent?’ BBC Sport, 16 July 2018.
  58. Smith YR (1992) Women of color in society and sport. Quest 44:22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Statuta S (2017) The Female Athlete. Clin Sports Med 36:4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stevenson B (2010) Beyond the classroom: using title IX to measure return to high school sports. Rev Econ Stat 92(2):294–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Strashin J (2017) How Canadians paved the way. CBC, 29 Mar 2017.
  62. Sweet WE, Segal E (1987) Sport and recreation in ancient Greece: a sourcebook with translations. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  63. Tembon MM, Fort Lucia (2008) Girls’ education in the 21st century: gender equality, empowerment, and growth. World Bank Publications, WashingtonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Toffoletti K, Thorpe H (2018) The athletic labour of femininity: the branding and consumption of global celebrity sportswomen on Instagram. J Consum Cult 18(2):298–316CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Troutman KP, Dufur MJ (2007) From high school jocks to college grads: assessing the long-term effects of high school sport participation on females educational attainment. Youth Soc 38(4):443–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against WomenGoogle Scholar
  67. United Nations Convention against Discrimination in EducationGoogle Scholar
  68. United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against WomenGoogle Scholar
  69. Universal Declaration of Human RightsGoogle Scholar
  70. Vaglanos A (2018) Serena Williams wants to know why she’s drug-tested more than other athletes. The Huffington Post, 2 July 2018.
  71. Waldron JJ (2016) It’s complicated: negotiations and complexities of being a lesbian in sport. Sex Roles 74:335–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Wanneberg PL (2011) The sexualization of sport: a gender analysis of Swedish elite sport from 1967 to present day. Eur J Women’s Stud 18(3):265–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Weiner J (2014) The tour de france, again, has no women cyclists. The Washington Post, 24 July 2014. Accessed 16 July 2018
  74. White DGray (1999) Ar’n’t I a woman: female slaves in the plantation south. W.W. Norton and Co, New York and LondonGoogle Scholar
  75. Wilson TC (2002) The paradox of social class and sports involvement. Int Rev Sociol Sport 37(1):5–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Woods SE et al (2008) Is it cost-effective to require recreational ice hockey players to wear face protection? South Med J 101:10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Worden M (2018) Banned from watching soccer, the women of iran are being failed by FIFA. Human Rights Watch, 08 Mar 2018.
  78. Wuerth S et al (2004) Parental involvement and athletes’ career in youth sport. Psychol Sport Exerc 5:21–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wyshynski G (2018) Best and worst of the 2018 NHL all-star weekend., 29 Jan 2018.
  80. 20 U.S.C. 1681Google Scholar

Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Instituut 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen Mary University of LondonHeppnerUSA

Personalised recommendations