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With limited resources for research initiatives, partnering with external research or community groups can increase a sport organization’s capacity to conduct concussion injury prevention work. Developing initiatives with these partners, such as universities and hospitals, can help sport organizations gain access to trained staff capable of taking on some of the research burden.

Most triathletes use a “positive” pacing strategy, where they gradually decrease their speed as the race progresses. However, research shows that starting slower or staying at a constant speed leads to better results. By adopting a more conservative pacing strategy, triathletes and coaches can improve race performance.

“I think that sport has unique evaluation opportunities in that you can measure things like confidence. You might not spot that change in confidence unless you measure these skills at baseline and share that information with the kids.” In the SIRC blog, Chris Penrose, Director of Programs and Operations of Lay-Up Youth Basketball, discusses how evaluation findings led to meaningful program improvements.

To be effective, strategies to reduce the risk of concussion should be both targeted and sport-specific. Sport-specific knowledge about how concussions occur and where the highest risks exist will help sport organizations develop effective strategies. After a new strategy is introduced, ongoing re-evaluation and data collection is vital for assessing its success and impact.

The Spring 2022 SIRCuit is now available!

The SIRCuit is designed to highlight important research and insights to advance the Canadian sport system. With the Canadian Sport Policy set to be renewed in 2023, this is the first of a 2-part SIRCuit edition exploring the future of sport of Canada. In this edition, sport and physical activity researchers, practitioners and policymakers share data, insights and best practices to help shape inclusive sport practices and policies for all Canadians.


Highlights 


Until recently, a typical research process would include generating ideas or research questions, gathering and analyzing data to test hypotheses, publishing the results in scientific journals and anticipating that the findings would be adopted or applied in the “real world.” Then, this cycle would repeat, replacing old questions with new lines of inquiry.  

True, this outdated approach generated new knowledge, although clearly at various levels of depth and breadth. However, that approach rarely resulted in uptake of research findings by the people or organizations best positioned to make use of such findings. They’re also known as knowledge-users or end-users.  

Without that uptake, the findings don’t lead to meaningful shifts or improvements in how things are done. For example, despite a recent increase in research focused on sport and physical activity policies, programs and practices (Blamey & Mutrie, 2004; Faulkner et al., 2006), there have been no notable improvements in population-level sport and physical activity participation, according to surveillance data.  

It’s undoubtably complex to effectively translate knowledge that stems from academic research findings and apply it to the real world of sport and physical activity participation. A disconnect between researchers and knowledge-users could be a factor that’s hindering the translation of such research into practice. In particular, it’s possible that sport and physical activity researchers pursue studies that aren’t valuable to knowledge-users, such as sport administrators, coaches, public health professionals or education specialists. Or, if they do, it’s possible that their results don’t find their way to those working to promote sport and physical activity participation.  

Essentially that’s a gap between the research (on sport and physical activity) and the needs of those who can best apply or act on those research findings. To bridge that gap, we recently conducted a study aimed at identifying top research priorities of sport and physical activity among knowledge-users from various sectors across Canada. In this article, we’ll describe best practices and frameworks for effective knowledge translation (which guided our study). We also cover how we conducted our research and what we found to be the top research priorities of sport and physical activity knowledge-users in Canada. 

Bridging the research-to-practice gap

Basketball coach with clipboard and marker explain with scheme the strategy of the game to a player.

Several studies previously reported that many people who work to promote sport and physical activity participation don’t feel well informed by current research (Coutts, 2017; Dale et al., 2016; Fullagar et al., 2019; Zenko & Ekkekakis, 2015). Similarly, sport and physical activity researchers felt they had observed a gap between research findings and related policy and programming (Faulkner et al., 2006; Fullagar et al., 2019; Holt, Camiré, et al., 2018; Holt, Pankow, et al., 2018).  

As noted earlier, it’s thought this gap is partly driven by sport and physical activity researchers investigating issues that differ from the daily challenges experienced by stakeholders, practitioners and coaches (Fullagar et al., 2019). The gap may also exist because knowledge-users are unaware of research results that could help alleviate some of the challenges they’re facing (Holt, Pankow, et al., 2018).  

To overcome these 2 challenges, and to maximize the significance of their research, researchers can now follow guiding principles that lay the ground for what is known as integrative knowledge mobilization. To understand that term, the Knowledge to Action Framework is the most widely used set of principles to guide integrative knowledge mobilization. It essentially promotes a research process that involves a knowledge creation cycle and an action cycle (Graham et al., 2006). The 2 distinct, but related cycles include multiple phases that are iterative and can overlap.  

The knowledge to action cycle. This cycle has 2 stages. Stage one is the knowledge creation funnel. Stage two is the action cycle.
The Knowledge to Action Framework. Image retrieved from Graham et al. (2006)

The knowledge creation cycle involves the traditional research process, but ensures consistent tailoring of the knowledge created. Specifically, tailoring it to cater to the needs of knowledge-users by engaging them from the onset and keeping them involved throughout the research process. In contrast, the action cycle identifies the activities required for knowledge to be applied in practice. The individual phases within the action cycle dovetail with one another. Those phases evolve as they move from identifying an issue that needs attention to determining whether the issue represents a knowledge-practice gap that needs filling. The next phases then include adapting the knowledge for the local context, assessing barriers and facilitators associated with the uptake of knowledge and implementing it. Monitoring and assessing the impact and sustainability of the knowledge implemented are the final phases of the action cycle. Naturally, tailoring knowledge to the needs of knowledge-users means its crucial to co-involve researchers and stakeholders in all phases of both the knowledge creation and action cycles. 

Given that researchers have relatively focused areas of expertise, they may be intimidated to work collaboratively with knowledge-users. Researchers may consider it risky if they realize the most pressing issues requiring attention don’t align with their scope of competence. Since the involvement of knowledge-users is essential for the Knowledge to Action Framework, it would therefore be useful for researchers to have an already established understanding of priority issues generally identified by knowledge-users. With access to a repository of knowledge-users’ main challenges, researchers could identify issues for which their skillset is best suited.

Being able to readily pinpoint a pressing issue they’re ready to tackle, researchers could then rapidly move to the step of seeking knowledge-users to partner with for the various phases, from knowledge creation to action. By identifying knowledge-users’ priorities, researchers have the potential to accelerate knowledge creation and align limited research resources with the needs of those in a position to act on the findings. 

Listening to what the Canadian sport and physical activity community had to say 

We recently conducted a study aimed at identifying the top issues of sport and physical activity knowledge-users from various sectors across Canada (Bélanger et al., 2022). Many different ways exist to identify research priorities, so we used a hybrid model. To generate a shortlist of research priorities, we combined various approaches that promote: congregating expert opinions, purposefully sampling stakeholders from multiple sectors and using an iterative process to collect and analyze data (Cowan & Oliver, 2018; Kelly et al., 2014; Sivananthan & Chambers, 2013).  

For this national-level research program, we followed 3  consultation steps. Our consultations involved Canadian sport and physical activity knowledge-users. And in all cases, they were from multiple sectors (including health, education, sport, social development, governmental, and non-governmental). First, we brought together a group of sport and physical activity knowledge users for a 1 day workshop to identify a long list (68) of potential priority topics for Canadian researchers.  

Secondly, we held prioritization exercises, during which workshop participants took an online survey about the priority topics identified earlier. For the survey, they reported the extent to which they felt each topic was: relevant, difficult to address, and representative of an issue for which more knowledge is needed. From the survey scores, we identified issues perceived to be the easiest to address (that is, issues perceived to be very relevant and with a low difficulty score) and the most important (that is, issues perceived to be very relevant and with a high need of knowledge).  

Thirdly, we invited any Canadian sport and physical activity knowledge-user to take our next questionnaire, which was also delivered online. Participants were asked to rank the top  21 issues that met the threshold of ease and importance in our second step. In this final step, participants rated each issue with the same criteria of relevance, difficulty and perceived need for more knowledge. The average of scores obtained in this final step allowed a number of issues to stand out, ultimately highlighting knowledge-users’ top priorities for sport and physical activity research.  

Priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada 

The multistep process of engaging stakeholders from various sectors led us to identify 8  research foci. In general, we found that Canadian stakeholders want more research on the financial barriers to participation, best communication strategies to promote participation, consequences of dropout, key characteristics of effective interventions, engagement of Indigenous populations, creation of positive and inclusive experiences, recruitment and retention of volunteers, and implementation of knowledge exchange strategies. More specifically, the top 8  issues stakeholders identified are described here, in no particular order: 

  1. Financial support for sport and physical activity. Several types of barriers can impede participation in sport and physical activity. Because of the inequity created by financial barriers for sport and physical activity participation, several government and community-driven financial aid programs aim to enable participation regardless of ability to pay. Notwithstanding, stakeholders identified financial support as a priority. They want communication gaps addressed to ensure that individuals who would need financial support know about the available programs and have access to them.  
  1. A mega phone against a yellow backgroundCommunications for optimal sport and physical activity promotion. Stakeholders consider it a priority to find better ways of clearly communicating the importance of sport and physical activity participation. Targeted communication approaches may be more effective than wide-reaching strategies for promoting physical activity. So recognizing that, investigations relating to this topic could help identify targeted communication approaches to favour reaching different sub-groups.  
  1. Consequences of dropping out from sport and physical activity. Despite having a good understanding of the positive impacts of sport and physical activity, participants reported that it’s a priority to correct the current lack of information on the influence of dropping out from such activities. In particular, stakeholders called for more information on the moderate-term to long-term consequences of dropping out. Consequences could include mental and physical health, future participation, other behaviours and general development.  
  1. Characteristics of best interventions for sport and physical activity participation. This priority highlights that researchers must better communicate what’s already known with respect to most effective approaches to promote engagement of various population-groups when it comes to sport and physical activity. It’s also a priority to identify the best ways to keep individuals in sport and physical activity (retention) once they’ve initiated participation. For several sub-groups, this represents a need to better share what the scientific literature identifies as effective interventions. For other groups, it means disclosing gaps in knowledge and seeking evidence of effective approaches to sustain participation over time. 
  1. Physical activity and sport participation among Indigenous populations. Another priority emerged to address low levels of physical activity and sport participation. In this case, specifically to address this priority among Indigenous populations. However, the current study didn’t include enough representation of Indigenous people to provide a clear direction. The emergence of this topic among the priorities nevertheless highlights the need to further investigate research priorities related to sport and physical activity participation in collaboration with members, leaders and Elders of Indigenous communities. 
  1. Promotion of safe, inclusive and quality experiences in sport and physical activity. The need for researchers to identify ways to harness inclusiveness within organized sport and physical activity was also deemed a priority. In particular, participants wanted better knowledge on approaches to facilitate the development of a sport and physical activity system that respects and values diversity and inclusion. Through the study, stakeholders explained they’re seeking leadership from the research community to identify evidence-based strategies to avoid bullying in sports and promote safe, positive and inclusive experiences.  
  1. Volunteers supporting at a sporting eventSustaining volunteer engagement in sport and physical activity. Researchers can also contribute to helping sport and physical activity organizations find ways to address volunteer shortages. The sport and physical activity sector relies heavily on volunteer engagement for managing and delivering programs. Stakeholders from this sector consider it a research priority to better understand how to engage and retain volunteers. Researchers could help by identifying reasons for which individuals engage in volunteering and what contributes to them remaining involved over the long term.  
  1. Knowledge exchange between researchers and knowledge-users. The need to enhance the involvement and integration of knowledge-users into the research process was also identified. Although this gap may not need to be addressed through research questions, all sport and physical activity researchers should consider it as a sign at the outset. Their research processes must engage those who’ll have the power to adopt or apply their findings or those people most affected by their research.  

What can sport and physical activity knowledge-users expect from their involvement in research?

As recognized and integral members of a collaborative or co-involved research team, knowledge-users are encouraged to:  

Co-involvement may be new to both the researchers and to knowledge-users. Before knowledge-users can successfully contribute to research, let alone adopt research findings that improve their programs, researchers first need time to work out which priority research needs they’ll address and how to address them.  

Once the researchers are ready to tackle issues, they’ll need to seek knowledge-users to partner with them. When that happens, knowledge-users will have a say about the specific research objectives. So that way, the objectives are truly tailored to those knowledge-users’ needs.  

Final thoughts 

This study identified 8 high-ranking priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada. These priorities provide much-needed guidance to sport and physical activity researchers, specifically those seeking to engage in research from the perspective of knowledge-users from various sectors. By acknowledging and implementing these findings, research will more accurately reflect the burning issues identified by multisectoral representatives in sport and physical activity promotion. This is particularly true if that’s done while adhering to best practices in terms of knowledge exchange. Canadian sport and physical activity participation will hopefully improve if collaborative research efforts address the priority topics identified by Canadian sport and physical activity stakeholders.  


Highlights


Signals = the truth
Noise = what distracts us from the truth
(Silver, 2015)

The Government of Canada is committed to achieving gender equality in sport at every level by 2035. But where are we in achieving this goal? And how do we know where we are?

The answers to these questions lie in the ability to gain reliable and accurate data. These data points are known as “signals” and they show where we’re on the path to achieving the goal. However, these signals are often muffled by “noise,” or other information offering little value or distracting from the original goal.

Within the sport system, researchers intentionally look for signals about women and girls to assess their advancement in this traditionally male-dominated sector. However, this isn’t easy work, because signals must be uncovered amid the noise. Signals and noise are 2 variables that are both independent and co-exist within systems (Wolfe, 2020).

To understand the presence or absence of gender equity within the Canadian sport system, there must be a quest for reliable data signals in areas that affect the system. Where do we look for reliable data? And how do we minimize noise in the system? In this article, we’ll take a look at the data we have in some areas, where noise still exists, and how we can chart a path to achieving clarity in the system.

Signals, noise and the search for clarity

This useful metaphor of signals versus noise was first introduced by Nate Silver, an American statistician. It’s the theme of his 2015 book The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predications fail – but some don’t (Silver, 2015). Silver argues that both science and self-knowledge are required to distinguish signals (truthful information) from noise (distracting information). Distinguishing them will provide clarity in a data rich system (Silver, 2015; Wolfe, 2020).

To illustrate this metaphor, here the y-axis shows low to high noise and the x-axis shows low to high signals. Within the graph, the 2 opposing axes create 4 quadrants of possible information scenarios.

1. Obscurity is in the top-left quadrant. Obscurity equals high noise and low signal. 
2. Mystery is in the bottom-left quadrant. Mystery equals low noise and low signal. 
3. Distraction is in the top-right quadrant. Distraction equals high noise and high signal. 
4. Clarity is in the bottom-right quadrant. Clarity equals low noise and high signal. 
Adapted from Wolfe, 2020, https://nolongerset.com/signal-vs-noise/
Figure 1: Quadrants formed by the noise versus signals axes (image adapted from Wolfe, 2020).

In the “mystery” quadrant, the system is characterized by both low noise and low signal. That’s where the Canadian Sport system was when the goal of gender equity by 2035 was first announced. When a system is facing data “obscurity,” high levels of noise and low signals are experienced. And, in a space of “distraction,” there are high noise and high signals. Distractive scenarios are tricky, because lots of noise may create confusion, steering individuals away from the important and valuable signals they’re aiming for.

Optimally, the Canadian Sport system aims to operate in the quadrant of “clarity,” where signals are high and noise is minimal. This ideal outcome ensures the availability of true signals or noise-free data. This is the focus of the work of the E-Alliance, a knowledge sharing hub made up of scholars and partner organizations from across Canada. They’re dedicated to gender+ equity in sport and to providing clarity to the Canadian Sport system on gender equity.

Women and girls in Canada

Woman in a park, holding a badminton racquet and smiling at the cameraHigh signals for demographic information come from Statistics Canada and present the diversity of Canada’s population. According to census data, over half of Canada’s population (50.9%) identify as women (Statistics Canada, 2016). This nearly even gender distribution is evident across children’s age categories: 49% of children under the age of 14 are girls, and 49% of teens (aged 15 to 19) are also girls (Statistics Canada, 2021). One in 4 Canadians identify as BIPOC (Black peoples, Indigenous peoples and Peoples of Colour) and 1.7 million identify as Indigenous (Statistics Canada, 2016). Further, depending on different data sources, between 3% and 13% of Canadians identify as LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer) (Jasmin Roy Foundation, 2017). Based on these signals, the Canadian population includes diverse individuals with intersectional identities.

But, what do we know about how many women and girls are participating in sport? And what do we know about the participation of women and girls with intersectional identities? Below, we dive into the signals for women and girls’ participation and leadership in sport, the role of sport media in providing signals or noise, and the path forward for gender equity in Canadian sport.

Women and girls in sport

Researchers have been working to provide good data or signals on women and girl’s involvement in sport. This cumulative work has led to strong signals on participation rates, changes and the reasons why women and girls may be missing from sport. We now know that girl’s sport participation rate drops by 22% as they enter adolescence, leading to a dropout rate of 1 in 3 girls leaving sport by their teens (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020). These changes are more staggering for girls with intersectional identities, as Indigenous girls have the lowest participation rate at only 24% (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020).

Ongoing work has provided insights on the complex reasons why girls choose to leave sport. These include socialization and gender expectations, lack of consideration for social identities, structural barriers and psychosocial barriers (Trussel et al., 2020). A strong signal for girl’s decreased participation came recently in work uncovering how COVID-19 affected girl’s sport: 1 in 4 girls aren’t committed to returning to their pre-pandemic sports (Canadian Women & Sport, 2021). Just imagine, if you looked at all Canadian girls in sport nationally, then this is the equivalent of every girl in Alberta deciding to stop participating in sport. A shocking value a time when sport may be more important than ever.

It’s thanks to the work of scholars dedicated to uncovering signals on girl’s participation that we now have these insights. We can use the insights to move forward with creating more inclusive sport environments and more sustainable sport experiences for girls. This ongoing research is critical to filling in signal gaps we have about girls who leave sport.

What are the next research questions (in no particular order)?
How do we create a more inclusive sport environment?
1. Connecting research to social and political actions
2. Re-imagining sport as a place of transformation
3. Intersectional approaches, including gender+, race, ethnicity, (dis)ability, social class, sexual identity
Figure 2: How do we create a more inclusive sport environment? (Trussell et al., 2020).

Importantly, this work prioritizes creating equitable sport experiences for all Canadian girls. That’s an important goal because we know that those with intersectional identities face more barriers to inclusion (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2022).

Women and girls in high performance sport

For professional women athletes, participation opportunities have grown over time. Consider the Olympics, the world’s largest sporting event, which began with no opportunities for women to participate. Over time, women’s participation in the Olympic Games has ebbed and flowed, but it has mostly grown to achieving near gender parity at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games.

For the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Canada sent teams that were predominately women. Over half (60%) of the Canadian Olympic team, and 55% of the Paralympic team were women athletes (Canadian Olympic Committee, 2021a; Canadian Paralympic Committee, 2021a). Women athletes won the majority of Canada’s medals, winning 75% of Canada’s Olympic medals and 67% of the Paralympic medals (Canadian Olympic Committee, 2021b; Canadian Paralympic Committee, 2021b). Thanks to these signals, we can see there are high-stakes opportunities for women to participate within our sport system and that these athletes bring a high return.

For the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, Canada sent its most gender-equal team, with 106 women athletes and 109 men athletes. A strong signal of women’s increased participation in high performance sport.

Women and girls in sport leadership

Moving on, we take stock of how women are involved in sport leadership. A 2019 study, surveying over 20,000 people across 11 countries, found that Canadians were the most comfortable with women as leaders (Vultaggio, 2019). Canada’s results were higher than any other nation surveyed, as 53% of men and 65% of women reported they were comfortable with women in leadership positions (Vultaggio, 2019).

So how does this translate to the Canadian Sport system? Returning to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we find that 47% of Paralympic coaches and 17% of Olympic coaches were women (Canadian Paralympic Committee, 2021c; E-Alliance, 2021). These findings are similar to the representation seen in university and college sports, where the majority of coaches are men (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020). The only exception was in the assistant coaching positions for women’s sport teams, where the number of women coaches is slightly higher than men (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020). Recent work has also shown that the overwhelming majority of the coaches in our university system are White (Joseph et al., 2021).

Bar chart illustrating the percentage of men and women coaches in university sports and CCAA.
In Men's sport, women represent 3% of head coaches and 5% of assistant coaches.
In Women's sport, women represent 26% of head coaches and 51% of assistant coaches.
In Mixed sport, women represent 18% of head coaches 34% of assistant coaches.
Figure 3: Gender divide in coaching at Canadian universities and colleges (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020).

This overwhelming percentage of male coaches isn’t a sign of capability. Research tracing the performance of basketball coaches suggests there’s no gender gap for winning games. In other words, while men aren’t more capable, they still hold the majority of coaching roles (Darvin, Pegoraro & Berri, 2018).

Outside of coaching, we can also review board member composition to look for signals around who is leading and providing oversight to Canadian sport organizations. In reviewing sport board membership and leadership, the number of board members who are women is increasing, with current estimates at 41% representation (Canadian Women & Sport, 2022). That value is encouraging. After all, it takes 30% of board membership to be individuals from diverse groups before changes toward equality are experienced (Tepper, Brown & Hunt, 1993). Importantly, gender-equal boards are associated with higher revenues and more financial resources (Wicker & Kerwin, 2020).

Based on statistics about board representation, compared to 2021, there's been a 1-point increase across sport in women board members (now 41%). That 1-point increase happened in national sport organizations (NSOs, now 38%) and multisport service organizations (MSOs, 49%), with a decrease in Canadian sport institutes (CSIs, now 41%).
Compared to 2021, there's been a 10-pt increase across sport in the number of board chairs who identify as women (38%). While increases were reported in board leadership at NSOs (up 11 pts to 39% with a woman chair) and at MSOs (up 14 pts to 32% with a woman chair), there was a 14-point decrease at CSIs (now 43% with a woman chair).
We’re celebrating that 3 non-binary individuals hold seats on sport boards of directors, roughly in line with Canadian population measures. This is the first time that’s been reported to us.
Figure 4: Women’s representation as board members and leaders (Canadian Women & Sport, 2022).

The role of sport media in providing signals or noise

Using these signals as a baseline, we turn our inquiry to how media represents women in sport, questioning if the Canadian sport media reflects women and girls’ participation in sport. Undoubtedly, Canadian sport media doesn’t accurately represent women athletes, and is a system full of noise. Arguably, the Canadian sport media may be labeled as a system of distraction, depicted by its high levels of noise and signals.

We’re currently conducting longitudinal research tracking print and online sport media coverage in Canada. While the data has yet to be published, preliminary findings show 92.6% of content is solely related to men’s sport coverage. However, concurrent research demonstrates that Canadians want to watch women’s sport content. But, they can’t find a place to watch it, despite 61% of girls (aged 13 to 18), 54% of women and 45% of men, wanting more women’s sport content available on television and online platforms (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020).

And when women’s sport is broadcast in Canada, viewership records are consistently broken. That demonstrates consumer demand. During the most recent US Open women’s single championship game, 1.1 million Canadians tuned in to TSN to watch the match between Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez (Dunk, 2021). This is a higher viewer turnout than for the CFL game and Toronto Blue Jay’s game which aired at the same time (Dunk, 2021). On ESPN in the United States, the game attracted 3.7 million viewers, a value higher than the 2.7 million who tuned in for the men’s match (Reuters, 2021). Further, in the United Kingdom (Emma Raducanu’s home country), there were 9.2 million streams of the match on Amazon’s Prime Video, demonstrating that viewership of women’s sport takes place across viewing platforms (Reuters, 2021).

Two school-aged girls on smartphones while walking and wearing backpacks.And what happened to these athlete’s personal following on social media platforms as a result of the final? Both amassed huge follower numbers on their social media profiles, with Raducanu gaining 363,300  and 1.2 million new followers on Twitter and Instagram, respectivelu. Leylah Fernandez had equally impressive gains of 72,000 on Twitter and 250,000 on Instagram, despite finishing second to Raducanu (Shitole, 2021; Akabas, 2021). These strong signals suggest the Canadian public is both interested in watching women athletes and in continuing to follow and engage with them after games. 

In Canada, perhaps the most recent example of monumental support for women athletes was from the women’s gold medal soccer match during the 2020 Olympics. That game drew 4.4 million viewers, an audience of nearly 12% of Canadians (CBC Sports, 2021). To put it in perspective, far more Canadians watched the women’s soccer team win gold than watched the 2021 Stanley Cup final, which only captured an audience of 3.6 million (Tirabassi, 2021). This evidence provides a strong signal for women’s sport and Canadians’ desire to watch women athletes compete.

Why is this disconnect between sport media coverage and consumer interest in women athletes so important? While the media doesn’t tell us “what to think,” it does tell us “what to think about.” And today, our sports broadcasters are telling us to think a lot about men’s sport.

Despite this current climate, there’s a potential disruptor in the system. In 2020, on the eve of International Women’s Day, CBC Sports announced that it was committing to gender-based sport coverage across all its platforms (Butler, 2020). At the time Chris Wilson, CBC’s Executive Director of Sports and Olympics stated that the CBC was committed “to providing audiences with equal opportunity to watch, read about, meet and hear from female sporting heroes.” At the time, Olympian Jennifer Heil commented that this change may be integral in keeping more women and girls in sport (Butler, 2020). Now, we need to track this commitment and hopefully add more signal than noise to the Canadian sport media landscape.

The path forward

Group of businesswomen in a meetingIn this article, we summarize the current state of signals and noise in the Canadian sport system around the federal goal of gender equity by 2035. What do we know? That we still have a long way to go. While we may be close in some areas (such as board composition), when we dig further into the numbers for a true signal, we see there are just as many boards achieving high grades as there are achieving low grades for gender equity.

The same is true for senior staff in these organizations. While many organizations perform well in terms of gender equity, an almost equal number perform poorly with women in under 24% of senior positions.

The continued prevalence of weak signals and loud noise in the system is the reason that Sport Canada established E-Alliance. Its mission is to “provide credible thought leadership and generate an evidence base to support gender equity in sport through innovative, transparent and sustainable research activities, data curation, network building and partnerships, to effect pan-Canadian behaviour change.” E-Alliance’s initial research agenda has been formed around 4 pillars:

  1. Longitudinal data on participation and leadership
  2. Evaluation of programs and interventions
  3. The nature of the experience of women and girls in sport
  4. Transforming the system to meet the goal of gender equity

To advance gender equity in sport, it’s critical that more longitudinal studies and work investigate the lived experiences of all women and girls with sport. Specifically, research focusing on women and girls with intersectional identities must be prioritized so that all Canadians can experience the benefit of sport. We must continue to track how the global pandemic affects sport participation and ensure that sport rebuilds in a gender equitable way. That will safeguard that any gains before the pandemic aren’t lost, nor are women and girls set back further.

About E-Alliance

E-Alliance is a knowledge sharing hub dedicated to gender+ equity in sport. It’s made up of scholars and partner organizations from across Canada. E-Alliance is led by 3 co-directors: Gretchen Kerr, Ph.D. (University of Toronto), Guylaine Demers, Ph.D. (Université Laval) and Ann Pegoraro, Ph.D. (University of Guelph).

E-Alliance strives to:

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