Study projects decrease in girls returning to sports post-pandemic

Graphic by Sarah Morassutti

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer, women representing team Canada won the country’s first 13 medals. In total, women won 18 of Canada’s 24 medals allowing a record number of medals to be won by Canada in a non-boycotted Olympics.

Despite these achievements, a study conducted in July 2021 by Canadian Women in Sports estimates that it will be difficult to get girls back into sports after the pandemic. The study explained one in four girls are projected to not rejoin sports; totalling to approximately 350,000 girls.

Statistics Canada has proven that sports offer a positive outlet for kids’ mental and physical health as well as an opportunity to meet others. With the suspension of sports due to the pandemic, girls may face challenges when participating in sports due to reasons such as limited access to quality programs and changes in their confidence and body perception post-pandemic.

The City of Kitchener has taken steps to combat this statistic through connecting with over 40 sports organizations. The city is also hoping to increase their tourism as it was observed that  sport registration tends to rise following large sporting events. With gold medals won in sports such as soccer, sprint track cycling, rowing and weightlifting this may be the drive Canada needs to invest and promote new programs for female athletes. The International Olympic Committee aims to inspire young girls to pursue different sports, but it’s up to Canada to give them access to programs in order to grow and succeed.

After running a Boxing Ontario seminar when?, local elite boxing coach and chief executive of Syd Fitness Syd Vanderpool said he discovered that girls are interested in pursuing boxing. This male-dominated sport only recently allowed females to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games and although the sport of boxing has taken strides to become more inclusive, male champion posters are the only things seen on most gym walls. Vanderpool said he recognized this and through adding more female champion boxing posters he hopes this can lead to a more inspiring space for girls and to get more involved.

Kaitlyn Clark, a Waterloo, Ont. competitive boxer, explained to CTV News Kitchener: “I think there’s this stereotype that as a female you get to a certain age, settle down, get married, have kids. I think that’s something a lot of female athletes have to hear from people.” This is one of the stereotypical factors that causes women to drop out of sports younger than men. However, this past Olympics has proven that gold medals can be won at 38 years old by Christine Sinclair or 21 like Maggie McNeil, proving to  this generation that sports can be played at a variety of ages. 

On the other hand, this pandemic has not dampened the love of sports for some female athletes. Abi Dixon, a competitive diver for the Kitchener-Waterloo Diving Club felt unfulfilled when sports came to a halt during the pandemic. However the anticipation to reopen has only fueled her passion as many still dream of a chance of competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

With more action being taken by the City of Kitchener to encourage girls to continue with sports, it is a step in the right direction to continue making gold medalists. At the Rio 2016 Olympics, women won the first 12 medals and in total took 16 of the 20 medals. This year, the bar was raised — who’s to say what the limits are for Paris 2024.