Sport and Women: A Glass Ceiling More Evident than Ever

Women's sports are played on silently in many countries around the world. The differences when compared to male sports are evident. But what are the causes? What measures are being taken to create equality regarding sports and women?
Sport and Women: A Glass Ceiling More Evident than Ever

Last update: 19 September, 2020

The term “glass ceiling” can be very much applied to the area of sport and women. This is a term the Wall Street Journal coined in 1986. It alludes to the invisible barriers that women and minority groups encounter in order to advance in their professional careers and reach positions of responsibility.

Although it was given a name in the mid-1980s, unfortunately, it’s been a constant reality in the history of the working woman.

In the field of sports, this ceiling is even thicker, since there aren’t even any specific reference points.

Let’s take Spain as an example. This year, the top Spanish female footballers signed their first collective agreement after many months of negotiations and protests. However, they haven’t achieved professional status at a regulatory level. In addition to this, they have clear difficulties in their working conditions.

There are many voices at national and international levels demanding specific measures to help break down these obstacles. In countries such as Norway, people have taken some quite controversial measures. They’ve introduced the quota law. As a result, there are some very promising results. The percentage of women on the boards of national companies has increased from 7% in 2002 to 44% in 2010.

In short, if women live off sports and practice sports, why can’t they manage it, and why can’t sport and women go hand in hand?

“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.”

-Simone Biles-

A woman running.

Sport and women: the forgotten people

The incorporation of women into physical practices and the world of sports is directly influenced by their own social evolution. The acceptance of women in new fields that were forbidden until recently also implies inclusion in the sports field.

Allow us to take Spain as an example again. The progress and development of Spanish society in recent decades has been dizzying. There have been changes in the most deeply rooted social conceptions. However, some aspects still reflect the old regime in Spain and its ideals about women.

Eliminating those sexist attitudes and conservatism that hold back evolution has become part of the school environment, with the active participation of teachers being necessary so that formal education doesn’t reproduce social inequalities, thus ensuring the much-defended quality of education (García, 2006).

A poor image in the press

References to sport and women in sports information journals are scarce and, on many occasions, not very accurate. The press, radio, and television continue to reserve a prominent and monopolizing space for male sporting achievements.

The sports press and the sports sections of the newspapers systematically ignore female athletes. This creates serious consequences for them at all levels, starting with the quantity and quality of advertising contracts.

Certain areas of the media project a model of a woman who’s far removed from a professional sportsperson, often scantily clad or even completely naked. Apparently, this is a policy designed to attract a type of reader more interested in publications with openly macho content than in serious sporting information (Ibáñez, 2001).

“It’s unfortunately true that there’s plenty of room in the world for mediocre men, but there’s no room for mediocre women.”

-Madeleine Albright-

Some women footballers.

The psychosocial environment in women’s sport

The lack of physical activity often affects women more. At the same time, in many ways, they could enjoy more specific benefits derived from practicing sports than men could. All this makes it especially important to get to know the factors that are associated with, or that favor, sporting activities in women.

The silence of the media regarding female sports and the inadequate treatment they give it have a serious consequence on girls and their development. The version of sports promoted in schools and that we see in the media is fundamentally dominated by men.

For girls, and for women in general, there’s a distorted interpretation of their participation in this world. There are no sporting legends to follow. Nor are there references, information, or athletes with charisma for them to imitate when they practice sport.

A future in sports for women?

Sport and women hasn’t proved to be an attractive combination for society, except on rare occasions. Tennis is one sport in which women do have a certain prominence and some notably charismatic figures.

For these reasons and more, it’s logical that it’s becoming more and more difficult for girls to see their future in sports. It’s more and more difficult for them to see how they could make a living from it, however promising they may be. And so, sadly, in many cases, all their effort in training and competition are only noticed by their teammates and fellow sportswomen.

To end on a positive note, it was recently revealed that the Football Association has been paying their male and female footballers the same wages since January 2020. It’s a good sign, but there’s still a long way to go. Australia, Norway, New Zealand, and Brazil have also followed suit.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Codina, N., & Pestana, J. V. (2012). Estudio de la relación del entorno psicosocial en la práctica deportiva de la mujer. Revista de psicología del deporte21(2), 243-251.

  • García, A. (2006). Evolución histórica y social de la presencia de la mujer en la prática física y el deporte. Lecturas: Educación física y deportes, (99), 10.

  • Ibáñez, E. (2001). Información sobre deporte femenino: El gran olvido. Apunts. Educación física y deportes3(65), 111-113.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.