Issue 5, 2017. October-November

   

A PLACE ON THE TEAM: A NEW PUSH FOR EQUALITY IN SPORTS

Georgian female athletes have brought glory to their country for decades at the Olympics and other international competitions-first competing under the Soviet flag and now under the Georgian flag. But at home, girl athletes, especially in competitive team sports, have struggled to find support and financing.

Archery, ice skating, skiing, shooting, trampoline, tennis-there are few sports in which Georgian female athletes have not made their mark in international competition.

But at home, women's sporting teams have struggled to find the same level of support that the men's teams enjoy, both in terms of financing and in terms with how they are accepted by society.

For example, Eka Kartsivadze, the team manager for the Tbilisi's under-19 girls' soccer team, has been frustrated by the lack of money for necessities, including footwear and medical support.


Players on the team have also faced problems the boys do not experience: they often have to put up with relatives who don't understand why they want to play a rough-and-tumble sport like rugby or soccer-or rules that stipulate how long their hair should be (long, not short) and the modesty of their uniforms, according to a report on Georgia's Rustavi-2 TV channel.

Overcoming Stereotypes

Team member Salome Dimopulo told Investor.ge that it was easier to play when she was living in Greece, where girls' soccer is more developed and more accepted.

Other girls on the team also spoke about resistance, either from parents or other people in their lives, to the idea they could play soccer-and play it professionally.

"The problem is that sports are not very popular and there are some prejudices. Unfortunately, parents and schoolteachers do not support girls in sports. Girls are less welcome in sports because they say 'girls should better go to music or to drama class,' or whatever. But concerning sports-like football [soccer], for instance-[the girls hear] 'your feet will look ugly,'" UN Women Georgia Communications Analyst Gvantsa Asatiani told Investor.ge.

Asatiani noted that the gender gap in how sports are viewed motivated UN Women Georgia to highlight the issue as part of the global He for She project.

The He for She project is about promoting men as defenders of women's rights. But the meaning was hard to pass on to a Georgian audience, she said, since "it wouldn't come close to the heart of the Georgian population. They wouldn't understand what it means."

Instead, UN Women in Georgia opted to use the particularities of the Georgian language, in this case the fact that it is a gender-neutral language with no gender-specific pronouns, to send the message that there is no place for gender prejudice in any aspect of Georgian culture.

The result was the campaign "Georgian language has no gender prejudice, get it out of your head!"

"We are promoting women in different spheres . . . we just decided to kick off this campaign using sports as the means to showcase how successful women can be there . . . We thought it could be thematically close if we would approach the sportsmen and the sportswomen in different sports and get out their messages about why do they think that it is equally important to have women in sports," Asatiani said.

"Sports is more connected to masculinity rather than a healthy lifestyle and rather than to the skills that you can get from sports to be a good leader, to be a good team player, to concentrate, etc.," she said.

The campaign has highlighted successful women basketball players, fencers, soccer players, rugby players, and more-including many sports where there is little public awareness that the women's teams exist, let alone that these athletes are winning internationally.

"Currently, girls and women have equal rights to participate in all kinds of sports in Georgia. In some sports, such as chess, fencing and archery, Georgian women are very successful in the global arena, but only 10 percent of girls and women in Georgia are involved in sport. One of the reasons is related to the widespread stereotypes that divide sports along masculine and feminine lines. Whether selecting, pursuing or even succeeding in a particular sport, girls are continually burdened with barriers and prejudices in their families and communities," UN Women Georgia noted in a report about the campaign.

Asatiani told Investor.ge that while women's successes at sporting events are publicized, issues like this require special outreach to reach the intended audience.

"It is a great success for me to see Georgian women winning gold medals, but I don't know if and how girls actually see this. I am pretty sure they are missing all this information. It is may be well publicized, but it needs a special angle, something like we did-a campaign for promoting girls," Asatinai said.

"Girls should be involved more in sports and parents should know more of the benefits their girls will get. It is crucial to make girls more motivated, more active, healthier, to be good team players, to be good leaders, to better achieve their goals. These are the qualities that sportspeople have I think," she added.

Losing Girls

The UN Women campaign worked closely with the Georgian Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs.

"Partnering with UN Women and this campaign is a great opportunity for us to reach out to the broader community and provide information to every family that it should be no surprise if a girl opts for any stereotyped 'manly' sport(s), for example, weightlifting," Vasili Liparteliani, the head of the Research and Analysis Division at the Ministry, was quoted as saying in a report about the campaign.

"We need to change the mindset that certain sports are intended only for girls or for boys. Girls' involvement in sport is their decision entirely, and it should not be subject to public judgment," he added.

Girls become less involved in sports as they age, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Georgian Children and Youth National Sport Federation in collaboration with the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.

A UNESCO-financed survey-"Gender Equality in Sport and Physical Activity"-targeted schoolgirls aged 12-15 and 16-19, parents, physical education teachers, sport instructors, and representatives of municipal services around the country.

The survey found that the number of girls around the country who regularly participate in a sports class of some type drops by 30 percent by the time girls reach age 16.

Girls in the older age group said they drop sports for several reasons, including "sports lessons are only for boys" and "there are no dressing rooms for girls," according to the report.

It also found that 70 percent of girls do not participate in sports because they lack the proper facilities.

The survey included 19 wide-ranging recommendations for the Ministry to improve equality in sports for girls, such as making the issue of gender balance clearer in the state sports development policy; promoting the importance of sports for girls; improving sports infrastructure in rural communities; creating school-based sports competitions; and increasing the number of female coaches.

The recommendations echo some of the steps that were taken in the U.S. after Title IX, the landmark law outlawing gender discrimination in any educational activity that receives federal funding, according to Aaron Heifetz, Press Officer for U.S. Women's National Soccer Teams.

Heifetz told Investor.ge that the real impact of Title IX, which was passed in 1972, started to affect women's sports in the 1980s, when colleges started looking for girls to play on their teams.

The demand for female athletes underscored the importance of "resources, youth programs, coaches and the opportunities to play" for girls, he said.

The path women soccer players follow in the U.S. and other countries-especially soccer powerhouses in Europe-can be a good lesson on how to move forward, but that is not enough, Heifetz noted.

"Girls can be motivated by men players, can be motivated by women players from other countries, but what will really motivate Georgian girls is to see Georgian women playing on the national team," he said.

Liparteliani told Investor.ge that the Ministry has been studying the issue of girls' involvement in sports and, in documents provided by the Ministry, it was clear that increasing girls' access to sports-and prioritizing youth athletics in general-is on the agenda.

What is less clear is how long it will take the changes to have an impact.

For Kartsivadze, the team manager for the Tbilisi's Tbilisi under-19 girls' soccer team, the wait is frustrating.

While there are signs of encouragement, like hosting big international women's soccer events at home-the UEFA Women's Euro 2020 for the under-19s will be in Georgia-there is a feeling the girls' efforts are underappreciated at home.

It is hard to find coaches who are willing-and able-to work with girls, it is difficult to finance away trips, and it is even a challenge at times to make sure that training facilities are suitable, especially compared to the resources allocated for the boys, Kartsivadze said.

For instance, the winning team of the Georgian women's soccer championship received just 4560 lari (approximately $1,846) for a team of 16 players - a small amount for the level of effort they put in the game, she noted in an e-mail to Investor.ge.

Latest Issue (pdf format)




Recent Issues






See more in our archive>>>