Mind the Gap

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Introduction

I am a big fan of what Rob van Bommel does.

I admire the passion and the expertise that makes Sportscene compelling reading and viewing.

In the last year I have become particularly interested in the gender discussions that have taken place on the Sportscene site.

Mind the Gap

Like Rob and the many contributors to Sportscene discussions, I am at a complete loss as to the reasons for the International Canoe Federation’s stand on gender equity. Back in May there was a discussion about gender equity on the Sportscene page that debated the ICF’s plans for the Rio Olympics.

I thought Peter Giles’ response  (November 2012) to the situation was outstanding. In his open letter to the ICF President, Peter wrote:

 Canada is extremely disappointed with the proposal to hold the Olympic program unchanged in 2016. This is in conflict with the ICF’s Equity Charter, distributed at the 2012 Olympic Games; and indeed with the ICF slogan, “Always Moving Forward.” The Equity Charter commits the ICF to increase women’s events in sprint and slalom on the 2016 program, and to achieve “50/50” – full gender equity – on the Olympic program in 2020.

To achieve these goals will require some very difficult decisions. We applaud the efforts of the ICF to lobby for an additional women’s C-1 event in slalom. However, it is clear that the IOC cannot solve our larger gender equity problem. There is no easy way out; delaying the decision is not an answer, and will not satisfy the demands of the IOC, the media, or the public. We strongly urge the Board, as our elected leaders, to take on these difficult challenges; and as a first step, to submit a program proposal for 2016 that includes women’s canoe for slalom and sprint.

Like many people, I was dismayed by the departure of Richard Fox from the ICF Executive. I thought he was a remarkable advocate for development and progress in a sport that has “Always Moving Forward” as its motto. For some time I have been wondering if the sole purpose of the motto is to distinguish the sport from rowing as a means of movement down a water course.

On reflection, I wondered why I should be surprised. Back in 1985, my taken-for-granted world was jolted by Ellen Kuzwayo’s autobiography, Call Me Woman. My academic interest in the sociology of sport in the late 1970s and early 1980s had raised my consciousness about patriarchy. Meeting Jenny Hargreaves helped me clarify my thinking.

These thoughts came back to me as I read Sally Armstrong’s article in The Huffington Post. In the article, she observes:

The new wave of change isn’t about giving the “little woman” a fair shake or even about pushing reluctant regimes to adhere to hard-won international laws relating to women. It is based on the notion that the world can no longer afford to oppress half its population.

They came back too as I remembered the bravery of those involved in RAWA. Our struggles are of a completely different scale.

I do think we have an important window of conscience available to us in canoeing. We should mind the gender gap as a moral imperative. ‘Mind’ in the sense of thinking deeply and ‘mind’ in terms of being concerned about decisions and their consequences.

Like Sally, I believe “women leaders have long asserted that a sense of community is far more valuable than a sense of control”.

Photo Credit

Doris Corbin

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