Fortunately, female sports participation and popularity has continued to dramatically increase throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, reflecting changes in modern societies, with an increased emphasis on gender parity and equality. Women’s sport has become more widely accepted throughout the world, thanks to the emergence of female role models who continue to challenge existing beliefs and limitations placed on women in sport.
This has been achieved through the emergence of athletes who have broken the mould, such as 23- time Tennis Grand Slam Champion, Serena Williams, American mixed martial artist, Ronda Rousey, and South African middle-distance sensation, Caster Semenya. Serena Williams most notably has won 23 career Grand Slam titles, a total unmatched by anyone in the sport. Williams’s feat is made all the more impressive as out of those 23 titles, her most recent comes as she won the 2017 Australian Open during her first trimester of pregnancy.
Rousey has been praised by many, including UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) president, Dana White, as being a role model for younger girls through overcoming many adversities in her life. This includes the suicide of her father when she was just seven years old. Despite adversity, she has won Olympic gold and multiple other titles in the sport of MMA.
Caster Semenya similarly is never really safe from the on slaught of criticism and abuse. Nevertheless, Semenya has gone on to claim gold at the 2009 World Championships, silver at the 2011 World Championships, silver at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women’s 800m, and most recently a gold medal at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
On the continent of Africa many women continue to do many great things in sport. At the 2016 Rio Olympics a 24-year-old Ethiopian distance runner, Almaz Ayana, ran in the women’s 10 000m race for only the second time in her career. She proceeded to break the world record for the race by a mind boggling 14 seconds. Kenyan marathoner, Jemima Sumgong, became the first Kenyan woman to win a gold medal in a marathon at the games, making history for her country.
Women’s participation in sport has historically been multifaceted and complex. With the emergence of female athletes and role models from around the world who continuously seek to transcend the ‘traditionally’ established status quo and boundaries in sport, the hope exists that sport will one day progress towards a more fully integrated and equally established playing field for athletes of all genders.
Image: Shaun Sproule.