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Equity in Sports

Leveling the Playing Field: How Female Athletes are Transforming Equity in Sport

Over the past decade, a transformative wave has swept women’s sport globally, significantly impacting Canada.

The push for equity has reached new heights, with female athletes’ voices resonating worldwide. The upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics, the first gender-equal Games, highlight strides toward inclusivity, emphasized by the remarkable achievements of Canadian female athletes.

Canadian Women at the Olympics

Canadian women have dominated the recent Summer Olympics. At Rio 2016, they won 16 of Canada’s 22 medals, and at Tokyo 2020, they secured 18 of 24. Standout performances included swimmers Penny Oleksiak, Maggie Mac Neil, and Kylie Masse, and successes in Women’s Soccer, Rowing Eight, and Softball.

Professional Women’s Sport in Canada

The rise of women’s sport extends beyond international competitions. Professional leagues like the Professional Women’s Hockey League, the upcoming Northern Super League for Women’s Soccer, and Toronto’s first WNBA team signal growing interest and investment. Canadian Women & Sport’s research, “It’s Time: Unlocking The Power Of Pro Women’s Sport Fans,” highlights this trend. The expanding professional landscape creates more career opportunities for female athletes, inspires the next generation, and boosts participation among children of all genders.

Supporting Female Athletes Beyond the Field

Women are staying in sport longer, through childbearing years and beyond, bringing new challenges like pregnancy, fertility, postpartum return to sport, and menopause. Organizations like MOMentum, led by Canadian female Olympians and Paralympians, are working to address these issues. Wheelchair Rugby Canada hosted a Women’s Health in Sport webinar on intersectional self-advocacy in the healthcare system. The IOC and the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee will, for the first time, provide facilities for parent-athletes, including private breastfeeding spaces in the Olympic and Paralympic Village Plaza.

At both the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Games, Canadian men didn’t win a medal until Day 9, thanks to sprinter Andre De Grasse! Additionally, Athletics and Equestrian were the only sports where Canadian male athletes won medals at those Games.

Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is actively working to support female athletes throughout their careers, including education, resources, and community partnerships to address these needs, as well as inform younger generations of high performance athletes so they are better equipped to plan for their future outside of sport.

A Global Voice

Mandy Bujold, a two-time Canadian Olympic boxer, further exemplifies this drive for change. When the IOC’s Tokyo 2020 qualification criteria excluded pregnant or postpartum athletes, she took her case to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport and won, compelling the IOC to accommodate these athletes, advancing gender equity in sport.

A significant change in women’s sport is the shift toward more inclusive and modest uniforms. Many women’s soccer teams at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup abandoned traditional white shorts due to period-related concerns. The Norwegian Women’s Beach Handball Team’s 2021 decision to wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms led to a rule change allowing short tight pants. Alternatives to bikini uniforms in beach volleyball and full-body unitards in gymnastics are also becoming common. These changes, driven by female athletes, make sport more inclusive and accessible.

Athlete Well-Being

Athletes are increasingly being seen as people first, beyond their sport and athletic accomplishments. Olympians, Paralympians, and senior national team athletes benefit from Game Plan, Canada’s holistic athlete wellness program focusing on mental health, education, skill development, and career opportunities during and after their sporting career.

The safe sport movement is also a priority in Canada, led by federal Sport Minister Carla Qualtrough. Initiatives like the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) and the Future of Sport Commission aim to ensure athlete safety and well-being.


Women’s sport in Canada and globally are rapidly evolving, driven by a commitment to equity, inclusivity, and support for female athletes at all levels. With Canadian women excelling internationally and professional opportunities expanding domestically, the future of women’s sport in Canada is golden and bright, inspiring future generations to follow in their hero’s footsteps with the motto, “If you see it, you can be it.”

Women are expected to dominate Canada’s medal tally again in Paris, with hopefuls including swimmers Maggie Mac Neil and Summer McIntosh, beach volleyball duo Melissa Humana-Paredes and Brandie Wilkerson, track cyclists Kelsey Mitchell and Lauriane Genest, shot putter Sarah Mitton, and canoeist Katie Vincent.
About Canadian Sport Institute Ontario

Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO) is a non-profit organization committed to elevating people and performances in the pursuit of building champions. CSIO strives to provide best-in-class sport science, sport medicine, and pathway support to high performance athletes, coaches, and National and Provincial Sport Organizations. CSIO is part of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, working in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own the Podium, and the Coaching Association of Canada. CSIO is further supported by Ontario’s Ministry of Sport and Sport Canada.

Learn more about the Canadian Sport Institute.

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